The prime minister’s official spokesman has indicated that the government still sees no reason to delay the final stage of reopening the economy on June 21 despite a rise in Covid cases, as health secretary Matt Hancock addressed Parliament on Monday.
Hancock had previously hinted that there may be a delay to the final stage of lifting social restrictions, following a rise in cases of the Delta variant [dubbed previously the Indian variant] of Covid-19.
Yet, the PM’s spokesman said on Monday: "There still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four can't go ahead at the earliest date.”
He did, however, acknowledge that this week would be “crucial” in determining whether all restrictions can be lifted as planned, or whether some amendments may have to be made to the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, meaning that face masks and social distancing could remain in place.
The spokesman explained: "We do need to look very closely at the data over this coming week, which will be crucial to decide and really to get a sense of the data, particularly on hospitalisations and whether or not the excellent vaccine rollout programme has sufficiently severed that link between the increase in cases, which we always expected to happen, particularly after step three, and that subsequently leading to hospitalisations and deaths."
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Hancock told MPs that hospitalisations had been “broadly flat” despite concerns that the now dominant Delta variant has proved to be 40 per cent more transmissible than its counterpart, the Alpha/Kent strain.
He said: “We know the vaccine is breaking the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths.”
As of June 3, official data indicated that there were 12,383 cases of the Delta variant in the UK. Out of these, 464 people went to emergency care, with 126 admitted to hospital.
Of the 126 people admitted, 83 people were unvaccinated, 28 had received one dose of the vaccine, and three had been administered with both.
The health secretary also confirmed that 76 per cent of adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine in the UK as of Monday, while 52 per cent had been given both. Furthermore, the vaccine rollout has this week been extended to the under-30 age group.
Yet, despite this progress, Hancock warned that it was “still too early” to make a decision on the June 21 milestone, explaining that the roadmap has “always been guided by data and we need four weeks between steps to see the data.”
He confirmed that an announcement on whether June 21 will go ahead as planned will be made on June 14, a week from today.
He added: “I know restrictions have not been easy and I am confident that one day soon, freedom will return.
“We must stay vigilant especially when children return to schools after half-term break. It is vital that every secondary school age child takes the test twice a week.”
Hancock also used the session to reveal that moving forward, the Joint Committee on Vaccination & Immunisation is considering vaccinating children as young as 12 against Covid.