The lifting of lockdown measures on 21 June in England should be delayed “by a few weeks” due to signs of a new wave of Covid-19 infections in the UK.
Concerns have been raised that it is too soon to lift all legal social restrictions amid the rising cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant, which is rapidly spreading in some parts of the country.
End date should be delayed
Government adviser and microbiologist Professor Ravi Gupta has said that lifting all lockdown measures at the end of June needs to be delayed to allow more data to be gathered about the Indian variant.
The University of Cambridge academic said there had been an “exponential growth” in the number of cases, fuelled by the highly transmissible Indian variant, but the “explosive” impact it could have was currently being masked by the high vaccination rate.
Currently more than 39 million people in England have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while a further 2.3 million have had both doses.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, he said: “It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.
“I think the problem is we are not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus and I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.
“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.
“Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.”
The UK government is now aiming to offer all over 50s the second dose of a Covid-19 vaccination before the planned end of restrictions on 21 June.
More data is needed
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that while the UK’s vaccination programme “will ultimately give us… protection” against the Indian variant, caution is still needed ahead of the next phase of reopening.
Prof Finn warned that a clearer picture of the pandemic is needed before any moves are made to ease restrictions further.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think it’s unfortunate that everyone’s got this particular date in their head, because really what we need to do is understand how things are going and adjust accordingly.
“What we’ve done wrong in the past is left it too late and delayed making decisions, ultimately pushed them back and then ended up with large waves of infection.
“This time around, we should be cautious, wait to see what’s happening, and then let everyone free, if you like, once we know for sure that that’s safe and that we can do that without having another round of lockdowns and so on.”
While encouraging data has emerged in recent weeks over Covid hospital admissions in Britain, Prof Finn said any impact on admissions brought by the easing of restrictions in May would not be known for many days yet, until “around about June 21 or just before that”.
Some measures could remain
While the 21 June date still looks uncertain for the next stage of lockdown easing, it is expected that even if it does go ahead as planned, some measures could still remain in place.
This will likely mean that face masks will continue to be required, while those who can will still be advised to work from home.
The government will wait for the latest data on 14 June before deciding whether to proceed with the lifting of restrictions the following week.