MATT Hancock tonight warned “this isn’t over yet” as Boris Johnson cast fresh doubt on June 21 freedom day.
The Health Sec told a No10 press conference this evening that Britain was still in a race between “the virus and the vaccine” and it was “too early” to tell if the June 21 unlocking could take place as planned.
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A “formal assessment” of data will take place next week – as medics grow increasingly gloomy about the new surge.
Mr Hancock said tonight that up to three quarters of new cases in the UK are the new, more easily transmissible, India variant.
But 13,200 deaths have now been prevented thanks to the vaccine rollout, and Britain is still in a race to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.
He also stressed that there was new evidence that the vaccine was still working well on the India variant after two doses.
The Health Secretary warned that the Indian variant is “spreading across the country” and that there had been an uptick in cases in the last 48 hours.
And while there’s hope a double dose of the jab can guard against severe illness from the variant, 10 per cent of those hospitalised with it are already fully vaccinated.
It’s a sign that, while the jab works well, the mutation can still get around inoculation in some cases.
Professor Neil Ferguson earlier warned that the June 21 date was “in the balance” – a point later backed up by Jenny Harries at the presser.
Earlier today, the PM said as far as he can see there’s nothing in the data to suggest a delay but that “we might have to wait” to make final decisions in the next week or two.
The PM told reporters: “I don’t see anything in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap. But we may need to wait.
“The point about the gap between the steps is we have put 5 weeks between the steps so we can see the effects unlocking have.
“We have to wait a bit longer to see what is happening past step 3 on May 17 – to see exactly what is happening.”
It comes as:
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons today, Mr Hancock said the link between infection, hospitalisation and death is finally being “severed”.
However, he added: “My assessment is that it is too early now to say, yet, whether we can take the full step four on June 21.
“I desperately want us to, but we will only do that if it’s safe.
“We will make a formal assessment, ahead of June 14, as to what steps we can take on the 21st.
“And we will be driven by the data.”
He revealed one in ten hospitalised with the variant have already had both jabs – and those who have not been inoculated remain extremely vulnerable.
“Our vaccination programme has reached 73 per cent of the adult population, but that means that more than a quarter still haven’t been jabbed,” he said.
Under the roadmap, June 21 was set to be the day life finally returned to normal.
The PM had considered ending social distancing and wearing masks altogether after the jabs rollout and winter lockdown forced both cases and deaths downwards.
But the spread of the Indian variant now looks set to delay the day millions of Brits have been awaiting for more than a year.
The bad news comes as one expert said people under the age of 21 may be more vulnerable to the worrying mutation.
Prof Neil Ferguson, whose models on UK Covid deaths led to the first national lockdown, revealed there is a “signal” in the data that it’s spreading more quickly in the young.
He said the Indian variant was now “the dominant strain” in the UK and the full reopening of society next month “hangs in the balance”.
And Prof Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at Cambridge University, has warned Brits must brace for more “weird things” from Covid – including “super mutant viruses” – and said: “This is just the beginning.”
Locals in Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside have been “to exercise their good judgement” by officials.
The Government announced advice not to travel in or out of badly-affected areas ‘by stealth’ – with the edict published on gov.uk, rather than being announced.
Yesterday 3,180 new cases of Covid were recorded – the highest number of new infections since April 12.
Mr Hancock said this morning he is positive that “thanks to the power of vaccination”, cases are still lower than they would have been.
After people across the country were allowed to mix inside and hug each other again after months apart, experts predicted the case numbers would go up yet again.
The Health Secretary warned there is still a tough road ahead as the India variant spreads.
“We have many challenges as a nation still to come, I know, and one of the things I’ve learned is the best way through is to work together with a can-do spirit of positive collaboration,” he told MPs.
“Whether it’s the science or the NHS or people queuing for vaccines in their droves, Britain is rising to this challenge. We have come together as one nation and we will overcome.”