Pressure mounts on Johnson to delay lockdown lifting
Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to delay lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England following another sharp rise in cases of the Delta variant.
The British Medical Association (BMA) joined calls to put any further relaxation on hold with the variant first identified in India estimated to account for 96% of new cases.
The warning came as the Prime Minister prepares to announce on Monday whether the final stage of lockdown lifting can go ahead as planned on June 21.
The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE), published on Friday, showed there had been 42,323 cases of the Delta variant confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from the previous week.
It estimates the strain is 60% more transmissible compared with the previously dominant Alpha, or Kent, variant, and that cases were doubling every four-and-a-half days in some parts of England.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the figures showed more time is needed to get the vaccine to more people.
“With only 54.2% of the adult population currently fully vaccinated and many younger people not yet eligible, there is a huge risk that prematurely relaxing all restrictions will undo the excellent work of the vaccine programme and lead to a surge of infections,” he said.
“It’s not just about the number of hospitalisations, but also the risk to the health of large numbers of younger people, who can suffer long-term symptoms affecting their lives and ability to work.”
For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Government was to blame for putting lockdown lifting in jeopardy.
“The pace at which cases of the Delta variant continue to rise is deeply worrying and is putting the lifting of restrictions at risk,” he said.
“The blame for this lies with the Prime Minister and his reckless refusal to act on Labour’s repeated warnings to secure our borders against Covid and its variants.”
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus chairwoman Layla Moran said the figures should “set alarm bells ringing” in Government.
The Lib Dem MP said: “The Government must immediately explain to the public whether this exponential growth suggests the country is in line for a severe third wave, and if so what it is doing to prevent this.”
Meanwhile, Merton Council in south London has announced that it is stepping up targeted surge testing in two areas – including an industrial estate in New Malden – where there have been recent outbreaks.
Additional testing is also being carried out in Staffordshire and in Northwich and Winsford in Cheshire.
The warnings came as The Times reported ministers were considering a four-week delay to what some are calling “freedom day”, in order to give businesses certainty and allow more time for people to receive both vaccine doses.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures estimate that around one in 560 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to June 5, up from one in 640 in the previous week and the highest level since April 10.
PHE said that growth rates for Delta cases are high across all parts of England, with regional estimates for doubling time ranging from 4.5 days to 11.5 days.
As of June 7 there have been 42 deaths in England of people who were confirmed as having the Delta variant of Covid-19 and who died within 28 days of a positive test, 23 of which were unvaccinated.
The figures also showed that two-thirds of the 1,234 people who attended A&E in England between February 1 and June 7 and who were confirmed as having the Delta variant of coronavirus were unvaccinated.
Of the 383 cases where attendance at A&E resulted in an overnight admission, 251 (66%) were unvaccinated.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi stressed the importance of being “really careful” in lifting coronavirus restrictions and urged against squandering the “hard-fought gains” made by the vaccination programme.
During a broadcast round on Friday morning, Mr Zahawi emphasised that the virus “hasn’t gone away” when asked about reports of a delay.
“There have been some really hard-won battles against this virus and we don’t want to squander those hard-fought gains that we have made through the vaccination programme,” he told Times Radio Breakfast.
“The virus hasn’t gone away, the virus will continue to attempt to mutate, to escape, to try and survive, and I think it’s really important that we are really careful.”
Mr Zahawi said the Government was “on track” to meet a target of all over-50s being offered their second jab by June 21, as he appealed to those who had not had a first dose to come forward to be vaccinated.