Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that nothing in the current CCP virus data will affect the scheduled reopening on June 21, but didn’t rule out the possibility that the plan may be delayed.
June 21 is the last date on the government’s four-step roadmap to exit lockdown. All legal restrictions are due to be lifted.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the final decision will be made by June 14 as many are worried that the emergence of the Indian variant may knock the plan off course.
“I can see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step four, or the opening up on June 21,” Johnson told reporters. “But we’ve got to be so cautious because there’s no question the ONS [Office for National Statistics] data infection rate is showing an increase.”
Johnson said the Cabinet needs to work out how much protection the UK’s vaccination programme has provided.
“I’m afraid the data is just still ambiguous,” the prime minister told reporters.
“Every day we’re having long sessions, we’re interrogating all the data, we’re looking at all the various models,” he said, “and the best the scientists can say at the moment in their guidance to us is that we just need to give it a little bit longer.”
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said that he believes the government has been taking “a wise approach,” but “a bit of balance” also needs to be kept in the discussion.
“I do think we need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease, and deaths which is really what we are trying to manage,” Bell told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme.
“If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away so we do need to keep a bit of balance to the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease that we are trying to prevent,” he said.
ONS data published on Friday suggested there had been an increase in cases in England and Scotland that are variants “not compatible with the UK variant,” but are “likely to be compatible with” the Indian variant.
In the same report, ONS said that in the two weeks ending May 22, the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19—the disease caused by the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus—remained low in Wales (1 in 3,850 people), but showed an increase in Scotland (1 in 630), “potential signs of an increase” in England (1 in 1,120), and “early signs of a possible increase” in Northern Ireland (1 in 820).
However, ONS data published on Wednesday said that among deaths registered in the week ending May 21 in England and Wales, only 1.1 percent mentioned “novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” the lowest level in eight months.
Zero deaths within 28 days of a CCP virus positive test was reported on Tuesday, the first time since March 7, 2020. Twelve deaths were reported on Wednesday.