Calls for Monday's lockdown easing to be delayed amid new variant concerns 1 month ago

Calls for Monday's lockdown easing to be delayed amid new variant concerns

The doubts over easing restrictions follow the PM's cautious update regarding the Indian variant

As the vaccine rollout programme continues, so too does the easing of lockdown restrictions. Having reopened non-essential shops, gyms, barbers, beer gardens and more on April 12, the UK is now looking forward to this Monday, May 17, when they can finally meet inside pubs and social distancing will become a "personal choice".

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However, following Friday's update from Prime Minister Boris Johnson - in which he discussed the growing concern surrounding Covid variants, most notably the rampant Indian strain - it is thought that the next step towards the 'end of lockdown' on June 21 could now be jeopardised.

While the PM reiterated that Monday's relaxation of the rules will go ahead, the next stage in June could face "serious disruption" by the Indian variant, meaning that as the government continues to monitor cases in the UK, plans for the fourth and final phase could be delayed.

The fear is that with Monday changes, there could be a resurgence in new cases and admissions to hospitals, as the government's scientific advisers have warned that the new variant - B.1.617.2 version of the COVID-19 virus presents new challenges and, therefore, additional assessment must be carried out in regards to the current roadmap.

Four tests have been run by the government to determine whether further easing of lockdown can go ahead. According to one of their scientific experts, Professor Christina Pagel, it is believed that one of those has not yet been met.

Pagel is a member of the independent body, SAGE. Although they have reassured people that, at present, there is no evidence to suggest that this new variant is a more serious illness, it is believed to be much more transmissible. Pagel spoke on Sky News to explain these four tests and why there is concern:

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In short, despite the vaccination programme doing very well, the number of B.1.617.2 cases are rising (1,313 in a week) and four people have now died from it in the UK. That being said, as she warned on Tuesday, moving to stage three of the roadmap "risks adding fuel to the fire".

As well as sharing the numbers and SAGE's stance on Twitter, she also stated: "Personally, I would like to slow down now to reduce chance of reversing the map later risking more uncertainty, more damaging closures and longer recovery from a worse situation. We need to learn from previous experience".

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The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) has also echoed the notion that Monday's relaxation could cause a "significant resurgence" because "there are still too few adults vaccinated" to stop the potential progress of a new variant.

As such, the PM has unveiled plans to accelerate vaccinations among the over-50s and those who are clinically vulnerable. Instead of receiving their second dose 12 weeks after their first, the final jab will now be received within eight weeks, with other age groups' schedules set to be accelerated.