Matt Hancock announces trial of coronavirus booster vaccines
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The lockdown easing roadmap was announced in February by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and has so far proceeded in accordance with the dates outlined by the PM. However, the schedule for easing is facing the prospect of delays amid rising rates of the Indian Covid variant which means the remaining legal limits on social conduct may be removed beyond that date.
Lockdown was implemented for a third time earlier this year.
Millions of people have been able to socialise indoors in limited numbers as well as hug their loved ones since May 17.
Groups of up to 30 have also been permitted to meet in outdoor settings, including in pubs, restaurants and other leisure facilities.
The ban on non-essential foreign travel has been lifted, meaning international leisure travel is permitted in line with new rules.
The final stage of lockdown easing is due to come into force from June 21.
However, Downing Street has admitted plans for lockdown easing at that time may be delayed due to new cases of the Indian Covid variant.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed almost 3,000 cases of the Indian variant have been recorded in the UK.
Mr Hancock said 2,967 cases of the COVID-19 variant have now been recorded, having stood at more than 2,300 on Monday – which equates to a 28 percent increase.
As a result, surge testing and vaccinations will be undertaken in Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester and North Tyneside.
A planned review of lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures is planned for the end of May.
The lockdown review could be delayed due to the rise in new Covid variant related cases.
Number 10 said the Government “cannot be definitive at this point” as to when the review will take place.
The PM’s spokesman said: “We want to do it as soon as possible but… we need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India so I’m not going to give a set time for doing that.
“We want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare.”
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On Wednesday, May 19, Mr Hancock was asked about the progression of the Indian variant and whether it would impact the lockdown easing schedule.
The Health Secretary said the final stage “will not be before” June 21 indicating it could be pushed beyond that point.
He added the Government hopes to give a decision on that on June 14 using all the information we have until then.
Mr Hancock said: “Clearly every day we are getting more information.”
He also said cases are more prevalent among younger people and the unvaccinated.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam agreed with the Health Secretary’s assessment, saying more data is needed to determine the final lockdown easing date.
He said: “I think scientists are sure that this virus is more transmissible than the strain it is beginning to replace.”
But it’s not known exactly how much more infectious it is, Professor Van-Tam added.
The deputy chief medical officer said, “the data will begin to firm up sometime next week” on how much more transmissible the Indian variant is.
He added this will “feed into models” so the Government can decide what to do next.
Transmission of the Indian variant is not inevitable, but he added people can slow it down by behaving cautiously and engaging with test-and-trace efforts.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling Group (SPI-M) said early data shows vaccines protect against serious illness.
However, he added they may be less effective at stopping transmission of the Indian Covid variant.
Professor Ferguson added the Indian variant may be less transmissible than first feared, but it would take time to be sure.
He said: “I think that’s being actively considered. I think it’s very much in the balance.
“The data collected in the next two to three weeks will determine that.”
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