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England may need to delay its roadmap to normality, but only for 'a couple of weeks'

Of 126 people admitted to hospital with the Indian variant, just three had had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

File photo
File photo
Image: PA

ANY DELAY TO England’s road map for easing lockdown would only be for a couple of weeks owing to the success of the vaccination programme, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Hunt, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, said he was “feeling quite optimistic that we are going to see the restrictions lifted” as “being double-jabbed” works against the Delta variant of coronavirus first identified in India.

“So, if Freedom Day ends up being put back a couple of weeks so we can get more people double-jabbed, I think it will only be a temporary setback,” he told Times Radio.

He added: “I think we are on the way to getting back to normal.”

He also told Sky News: “I am quite optimistic that we will have Freedom Day before the summer break.

“And because we know that two jabs is effective against the Delta Indian variant, if it does get put back from June 21, my own hunch is that there’ll be a matter of weeks, rather than anything that will really interrupt people’s plans for the summer.”

21 June is set to be England’s “Step 4” in easing restrictions.

Currently, indoor hospitality is open, groups of less than 30 people can gather outdoors and 1,000 people can attend a large indoor venue.

As part of 21 June, all restrictions on social interactions will be removed. All indoor premises are to reopen, including nightclubs, and restrictions on large events and performance will be eased.

However, that is all subject to the results of certain pilot programmes running through the spring and summer, where the use of testing and other techniques will be used to cut the risk of infection at events.

Hunt’s comment comes after a more downbeat Environment Secretary, George Eustice, suggested people should be taking their summer holidays in the UK.

He told Sky News he would be holidaying in Cornwall this year, adding: “Our advice has been don’t travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“Obviously we had hoped, with these three categories that we had, we had hoped that situation would be improving in other parts of the world, that we’d be able to progressively add other countries to the green list.

“Sadly, that’s not the situation. We do have this new variant of concern first identified in India that is now cropping up in other countries, and we’ve just got to take a very cautious approach.”

He added: “I will be staying at home, I have no intention of travelling or going on a holiday abroad this summer.”

Eustice said the “critical test” ahead of the planned lifting of restrictions on June 21 will be whether those who are vaccinated are being infected.

He told Sky News: “What we’re not seeing at the moment is that growth in hospitalisations associated with [infections] and that’s because we know that if people have the vaccine, particularly once they’ve had the second jab of the vaccine, it actually does give them immunity to this new strain that’s around.”

On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that out of 12,383 cases of the Delta variant, 464 people went on to seek emergency care and 126 were admitted to hospital.

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Of these, 83 people were unvaccinated, 28 had one dose of vaccine and just three had had both doses.

Hunt told LBC radio on Tuesday he was more optimistic “than some of the headlines this morning”, adding that people who have had two doses of the vaccine are “pretty protected” against the Indian variant.

“I think that should give us some encouragement – maybe it gets put off a couple of weeks but we are going to get there,” he said.

Reports have suggested the final step in the Government’s road map could be delayed by two weeks, with The Times saying ministers were given a “downbeat” briefing on the latest data on Monday by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

Downing Street has said there is “nothing in the data” to suggest a delay would be needed.

Hunt said people like Professor Whitty and Vallance will be “looking very closely to make sure we don’t take the decision that means that the NHS becomes overwhelmed”.

He added: “I think the most important thing is that, when we lift this lockdown or these restrictions, we want to know that it’s forever, that we can finally get our freedom back and it’s not going to change.

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“If we had to wait a couple of extra weeks because that was the scientific advice, I think most people would say that’s reasonable.”

He continued: “As far as the summer is concerned, I’m still an optimist. I have got a family holiday booked in Italy, but I also got it with those easyJet tickets that you can change the date at no extra cost. So, I’m fully prepared to do that if that’s what we have to do.”

Meanwhile, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, Danny Altmann, told Times Radio that reopening too soon could cause wave after wave of the virus.

“I do feel nervous about it,” he said. “Because at the moment we’ve done terrifically well, but it is a job half- done.

“For the sake of our grand single reopening day, we might pay a price of percolating this virus for evermore through to wave after wave after wave, where our children or grandchildren curse us and say, ‘But why didn’t you just hang on and clear it and get the country to a better place?’.”

Elsewhere, Dr Nikki Kanani, director of primary care at NHS England, said that vaccine confidence in younger people had increased.

health-coronavirus Source: Press Association Images

On the day over-25s were invited to book their Covid-19 jabs, Dr Kanani told BBC Breakfast: “We’re still seeing great uptake and we are definitely seeing younger people coming in and asking more questions, which is absolutely fine.

“More than four in five 40 to 49-year-olds have had their first dose and two thirds of 30 to 39-year-olds have already had theirs, and that is still going to increase, of course, as people come forward, so uptake remains high.

“We had additional polling over the weekend that shows that the confidence in the vaccine has increased by a fifth – by 20% – in those under-40s.”

 With Reporting from Niamh Quinlan.

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