Could June 21 'freedom day' be in doubt?

Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock - Credit: Infected Blood Inquiry

New data has shown cases of the Indian variant are rising in the UK as fresh doubt has been placed over June 21 restrictions being eased.

Health secretary Matt Hancock urged the nation to "remain vigilant" as Public Health England [PHE] figures showed a rise by 3,535 to 6,959 since last week.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has said England "may need to wait" for the lifting of all Covid restrictions, which is currently planned for 21 June.

He said he saw nothing "currently in the data" to suggest the government would have to delay the final stage of the roadmap.

Shoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre on the first day it became mandatory for

Shoppers wearing face masks in Norwich city centre - Credit: Archant

But he added there were signs of an increase in the number of cases of the Indian variant.

While some parts of the country have seen big rises in Covid-19 cases caused by the Indian variant, there have been fewer than 15 cases in Norfolk - and none in the past week.

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said: “Certain parts of the country have seen a rise in Indian variant cases and, with no travel restrictions into or out of those areas, we should continue to take sensible steps to follow the rules.

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“I’d encourage everyone to have a free lateral flow test, twice a week, to reassure themselves and their loved ones.

"Tests are available from the government website and from Norfolk libraries and pharmacies. If you test positive, you must self-isolate and take a PCR test." 

Mr Hancock said the government had always expected cases to rise as restrictions were eased on a national level. 

He added: "The latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three-quarters of all new cases are now of this variant.

"As we set out our roadmap we always expected cases to rise - we must remain vigilant."

The PHE data found the worst-affected areas continue to be Bolton, Bedford, and Blackburn with Darwen, which have seen 1,354, 366 and 361 confirmed cases, respectively.

And there are a small numbers of cases of the variant in most parts of the country.

But there are "early signs" rates in Bolton are starting to "cap out".