Government 'absolutely open' to delaying June 21 unlocking - Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock. - Credit: PA

Ministers are "absolutely open" to delaying the June 21 unlocking if the Indian variant worsens the country's coronavirus recovery prospects, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock, in what will be viewed as the clearest indication yet that the target date for lifting all restrictions could slip, stressed that June 21 was a "not before" date and that it was only "pencilled in" as the next step out of lockdown.

The minister also implied that social distancing could continue beyond the final stage of the prime minister's road map.

The comments come as Covid-19 cases have continued to surge in the UK amid reports Boris Johnson is considering delaying so-called freedom day by at least two weeks in order to allow more people to be fully vaccinated against the Indian variant.

Health secretary Matt Hancock during his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show.

Health secretary Matt Hancock during his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show. - Credit: PA

The Health Secretary, pressed on whether the June 21 removal of restrictions could be postponed if the Indian variant data "gets bad", told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "We are absolutely open to doing that if that's what needs to happen.

"We said in the road map that June 21 is the date by which we would not take Step 4 before that date and that we would look at the data.

"That is exactly what we are doing, so the road map was set up in order to be able to take these sort of changes into account."

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school.

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. - Credit: Archant

It comes as Professor Paul Hunter, from University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said he ‘could see both sides of the argument’ over further easing on June 21. 

He said although Covid cases were increasing the number of hospitalisations were not rising at the same rate and we are “quite close” to the point where lifting of restrictions should go ahead

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“Looking at the data, cases aren’t generally going up in the most vulnerable age groups, the over-60s,” he said.

“They are drifting up but not anywhere near as dramatically. The vaccine seems to be working both at reducing cases and at where people do get infected that they will end up in hospital.”

The health secretary said he "wouldn't rule out" measures such as wearing face coverings in public settings and working from home where possible continuing in the long term.

In a separate interview with Sky News, he said the Government "haven't yet set out the approach to social distancing after Step 4" and that plans were currently being worked up with scientific advisers about how to proceed safely.

Covid social distancing sign in Norwich

Covid social distancing sign in Norwich. - Credit: Simon Parkin


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