June 21 Freedom Day should be pushed back by a MONTH after Indian strain threat, Government scientist warns

A LEADING Government scientific adviser has today repeated calls to delay the June 21 lifting of restrictions by a month.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), warned coronavirus’s ability to adapt in the face of vaccines has still left the UK in a vulnerable position.

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He said the increased socialisation which has followed last month’s phase of restriction lifting could be expected to lead to “quite a lot” of hospital admissions.

Prof Gupta said while the nation had performed “amazingly well” in its vaccination programme, it was still too early “to put the vaccine straight up against the virus”.

He added that a delay of a few weeks to the June 21 target could have a significant impact on Britain’s battle against the pandemic.

He also recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on recent events, chiefly the emergence of the Indian or B.1.617.2 strain of the virus.

ROADMAP DELAY?

Prof Gupta told Good Morning Britain: “Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this.

“As long as it’s clear to people this is not an unlimited extension of the lockdown but actually just a reassessment, that would be realistic.

“Because we didn’t plan for the 617.2 variant when the initial roadmap was made, and actually things have gone really well except for the fact that we have this new variant to complicate things.

“We must remember this is a virus that does adapt, and faced with vaccines it will eventually start to make mutations to avoid them even further, and then we could be in an even more precarious situation after that.”

Prof Gupta said the UK was in "a really good position" in regard to its vaccination programme but caution remained crucial.

"The key thing here is that we're almost there," he said.

Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this."

"The problem is we don't want to put the vaccine straight up against the virus at a time when the vaccine coverage isn't quite high enough; it's not in young people, it's not in schoolchildren, and that's where the virus may potentially start circulating.

"We still have a lot of vulnerable people in the community who haven't responded to the vaccine."

Prof Gupta said it was concerning that hospital admissions could be about to rise following last month's easing of restrictions.

He added: "If we're fully unlocked on the 21st of June, we have a situation where over the next few weeks there will be a lot of mixing, there will be gatherings, because people have been waiting to do these things for a long time.

"So we will get an excess of mixing, especially in younger groups, and that will lead to some hospitalisations… quite a lot, at a time when the NHS is trying to distance within hospitals.

"So it does take time to get things done there, and the added pressure of having Covid cases, some of which will be severe of course, is going to have an effect on morale and clinical care for everybody."

VACCINE SUCCESS

Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation member Adam Finn also said the lifting of lockdown should be delayed this morning.

He warned that a delay is better than having to shut down again, adding that the Indian variant is “more infectious”.

Asked about whether final restrictions should be eased on June 21, Professor Finn, told LBC radio: "I fear it may be a bad decision to go with it."

Asked about the businesses which may not survive further delay, he added: "I think they are more likely not to survive if we open up and then shut down again.

"I'm no business person, and shouldn't really be commenting on business, but it seems to me that if we can progressively get back to a place where we're living normally that would be the better thing."

But he added that the final decision to unlock lies with politicians, adding: "Scientists advise but they don't decide, and ultimately the politicians have to carry the can for whatever decisions are made."

It comes as the UK recorded just one new coronavirus death yesterday – while cases have risen 40% in a week as the Indian Covid variant continues to spread.

A further 3,383 more people have tested positive for the killer bug, according to yesterday’s figures released by the Government.

Meanwhile, Britain’s vaccine rollout continues to go from strength to strenght after more than 15,000 people turned up for jabs at Twickenham Stadium following a vaccine free-for-all for anyone over 18.

Queues at the rugby stadium were "longer than Glastonbury" as tens of thousands of young people turned up in West London in the hopes of getting their first shot yesterday.

Anyone under the age of 30 was invited to come along for a jab as health chiefs tried to shift doses to meet targets.

 

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