'Too early' to say lockdown rules will end next month, Hancock says

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

21 June: health secretary Matt Hancock has said it is 'too early' to reassure businesses they will be able to operate with some normality next month (image: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via Flickr)
21 June: health secretary Matt Hancock has said it is 'too early' to reassure businesses they will be able to operate with some normality next month (image: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via Flickr)

Related tags: lockdown, Pubs, Coronavirus, Legislation, Health and safety, coronavirus

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said it is still 'too early' to tell what bearing the Indian variant of coronavirus will have on the final step of easing lockdown measures next month.

Conservative MP for South West Surrey and former minister Jeremy Hunt asked Hancock what short term measures he would take to assure “desperate” businesses this step would be permitted.

Hunt raised comments made by former Government scientist Professor Neil Ferguson on BBC Radio 4’s Today​ programme that the 21 June easing was “in the balance.”

“It is true that the Indian variant is spreading across the country," Hancock responded.

Too early to say

The minister said there were varying estimates on what proportion of the new cases each day were the variant first identified in India but the strain was “more transmissible” than others.

“My assessment is that it is too early now to say yet whether we can take the full step on 21 June,” Hancock added.

“Like him [Hunt], I desperately want us to [end lockdown], but I will only do that if it is safe.

“We will make a formal assessment ahead of 14 June as to what step we can take on 21 and in that we will be both driven by the data, advised on and guided by the science and we will be fully transparent both with this House and with the public in those decisions.”

One of the four tests the country must meet to progress to the next step of the Government's unlockdown roadmap is that "the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern."

Trade bosses have called on the Government to push ahead with the roadmap, pointing to the success of the vaccine rollout and suppressed hospitalisations. 

No reason to deviate 

UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls said while the variant’s presence had been “worrying” there was “little evidence” to suggest it would cause a spike in hospitalisations or deaths.

“There is no reason that the government should deviate from its stated reopening roadmap,” she wrote in The Guardian​. 

“Should there be one, it needs to be communicated well in advance and come with further support for a sector that employed 3.2m people prior to Covid – the third largest private sector employer in the UK.”

The publication of a Cabinet Office review into the future of social distancing due to be published by the end of this month was delayed following concerns over the variant.

It is hoped the Government will confirm trading rules such as 'one metre plus' social distancing and mandated table service can be scrapped from next month, returning many pubs to profit.

Data critical

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today​ programme, Prof Ferguson said data collected in the next two to three weeks on the variant would be "critical."

It was "concerning" that the Indian coronavirus variant was the dominant strain with the majority of new Covid cases being the variant, Ferguson said.

The new variant is thought to be more transmissible than previous variants but scientists are still trying to work out by how much.

Initial research has found two doses of a vaccine provide good protection but this is to a lesser degree than for the Kent variant.

Ferguson added: "On the positive side, we do have very low infection levels still.

“The key issue as to whether we can go forward is: will the surge caused by the Indian variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in the relaxation measures?”

Areas affected by rising cases of the B.1.617.2 variant have been issued with extra guidance including to minimise travel and avoid indoor socialising.

Related topics: Legislation

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