MATT Hancock today poured fresh doubt on June 21’s ‘freedom day’ and said it was too early to tell if the full unlocking can go ahead.
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.
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A “formal assessment” of data will take place next week – as medics grow increasingly gloomy about the new surge.
It comes as:
- Figures show the five areas where Covid cases are rising fastest
- Government scientists have warned ‘super mutations’ may yet emerge
- The cause of blood clots linked to AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines has reportedly been solved – and scientists claim they know how to fix it
- Cases of a new Yorkshire Covid variant double as a ‘concerning mix of 25 mutations’ is probed
- Dominic Cummings claims Boris Johnson was briefed on allegations Covid leaked from a Wuhan lab in April 2020
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons today, Mr Hancock said: “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.”
Under the roadmap, June 21 was set to be the day life finally returned to normal.
Mr Johnson 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.
And one expert said people under the age of 21 may be more vulnerable to 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.
And Prof Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at Cambridge University, said: “I do think we should take these reports seriously, because that’s the first sign that you have a problem.”
Meanwhile, people living in hotspots for the mutation have been told to avoid meeting indoors.
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 rate since April 12, he said.
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.