THE END of lockdown could be delayed past June 21 because of the spread of the Indian variant, a Cabinet minister has warned.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted No 10 “can’t guarantee” the big reopening will go ahead as planned next month.
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And he said if admissions to hospital start going up in the next few weeks then the date for all restrictions being binned may have to be “moved”.
But the Cabinet big beast said at the moment there’s “nothing in the data” to suggest a return to full freedoms will have to be delayed.
And he expressed hope that the success of the vaccination programme will mean there isn’t a big rise in people getting seriously ill.
Mr Kwarteng insisted he’s pushing hard for the reopening to go ahead as planned as he knows the impact lockdown has had on businesses.
He added: “As of today I can assure people there’s nothing in the data that said to me we should move the date. The caveat is the data can change.
“If scientific evidence points to an increased hospitalisation rate, increased degree of risk, then we have flexibility to move that date.
“I don’t think we will move the date but I cannot guarantee that.”
The business secretary said ministers have been buoyed by studies showing the vaccine works will against the Indian variant.
He said: “We’re very attentive to the data and we don’t want to proceed with the roadmap without considering all the information that we have.
“The numbers of cases is a matter of concern but what does give me some confidence is the fact the vaccine seems to be working.
“The effectiveness of the vaccine is what can give us some confidence we can reopen on June 21.
“The other thing thats very helpful and encouraging is the number of hospitalisations and fatalities is considerably lower than it was just two months ago.
“We want to reopen on June 21 and we’re trying to get to that outcome but if the data suggests it would be unsafe to do that we would follow that.”
His remarks came as a top scientists said Brits may have to carry on working beyond June 21 to stop the spread of the Indian variant.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Sage group of boffins that advises the Government, said some restrictions may need to stay in place for longer.
He warned cases of the new strain are doubling every week and on the current trajectory could hit a quarter of a million by mid-July.
The top prof said as a result the full reopening may have to wait until a higher proportion of the population are fully vaccinated.
Scientists have pointed to the fact that Israel waited until 70% of its people had got both jabs before ditching all restrictions.
At the moment 60% of Brits have had one dose and just over a third have received two.
Prof Hayward said it was “very positive” that studies show full vaccination is “highly protective” against the Indian variant.
But he expressed concerns that the jab’s “protective effect” is only about 30% in those who have received just a single shot.
He said: “It’s still going to be a few weeks yet until we’ve got all of the highly clinically vulnerable double vaccinated.
“That will about coincide with when we plan to open more fully up.
“When we do open up more fully then instead of doubling every week it’s likely to double more frequently than that.
“There’s a good argument for caution until such a time as we’ve got a much higher proportion of the population double vaccinated.”
He added: “It is a trade off, it’s a difficult trade off to make and it’s up to our politicians to make that trade off.
“There are some baseline measures that can remain in place without drastically affecting the economy.
“A lot of people can relatively easily work from home without it affecting their productivity and having a huge economic impact, and that would substantially reduce the amount of transmission.”