Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has defended the decision to ease the lockdown amid fears that the Indian variant, also known as B.1.617, could delay the final leg of England’s roadmap.
Live updates as lockdown got easier in England, Wales and Scotland
He said it was “very likely” that England would see all COVID restrictions removed on June 21.
The prime minister’s spokesperson also told reporters that the government was not yet ready to make a final decision on whether the restrictions would end on June 21.
And Downing Street said announcements about the future of social distancing, marriage advice and plans for national coronavirus “passports” could be delayed by the Indian variant.
Mr Kwarteng’s comments come as people across England, as of today, are once again able to enjoy cuddles with loved ones, indoor pints and vacations abroad , but like Boris Johnson also urged a “heavy dose of caution” because of the threat of the Indian variant.
So far, more than 1,300 cases of the Indian variant have been discovered in the UK, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned him on Sunday. “Becomes the dominant strain” in places like Bolton, as well as Blackburn.
Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “Yes things are opening up but people should have common sense, they should exercise judgment and I think if we act in a reasonable way there is no reason. to assume that we cannot completely reopen the economy. June 21st.
“I think there has to be some common sense, a little bit of caution, and that people shouldn’t run away being too rambunctious, I guess.”
“I think we just need to be measured and careful. “
However, Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), told Sky News that people need to be prepared for the roadmap to change due to the “possibility that we are in another big wave ”.
Asked whether the unlock next month could still happen despite a growing number of cases of Indian variants, Mr Kwarteng said he “fully” expected the June 21 date to be met, adding: “I think this is very likely. “
He added: “I said the vaccines worked against the Indian variant, I think we need to look at the numbers so that we have some flexibility, but there is nothing that I have seen and nothing but the Prime Minister did not see. now this suggests that we will postpone this date of June 21st. “
As the country moves to the third stage of the Prime MinisterWith the roadmap to lifting lockdown restrictions, friends and family were able to enjoy greater freedom to come together.
This included the possibility of meeting outdoors in groups of no more than 30 people and meeting indoors in groups of six or two households.
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Pubs and restaurants are also again able to serve customers indoors, while cinemas can reopen, fans can return to sports stadiums and the the ban on holidays abroad is lifted, as people are allowed to travel to a limited number of countries on the “green” list.
Additionally, the government is now allowing people to choose whether or not to socially distance themselves from family and friends when they meet – although ministers have urged people to think carefully about the risks of kissing.
Restaurant owners and patrons alike have welcomed the chance to eat or drink inside for the first time in many months.
Richard Danks, Brand Director at Byron Burgers, said: “Today is something that we have been looking forward to for almost 15 months now. It has been a difficult time for the past 15 months. We have negotiated… but I think that for all those who work in the hotel industry, in restaurants, what we like is to serve the customers… and that is the most important today, it is to bring people back. ”
At the Chapter Arts Center in Cardiff, where they have an exhibit on memory, deputy director Hannah Firth told Sky News: “It’s absolutely amazing. Which is particularly exciting, especially in a place like the gallery, we actually set up this exhibit two months ago, and it was waiting behind closed doors, so it’s wonderful today to be able to connect with the public. “
Peter Mulholland, director of the Escape Hunt in the Corn Exchange in Manchester, an immersive indoor adventure center, said: “We have been closed for a little over a year. We are really excited to reopen. We just can’t wait to get customers, bring back customers, lock them up and have fun with them. “
Rachael, who spoke to Sky’s Ivor Bennett at a pub in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said: “The last time we were in a restaurant was in December, which has been a long time so we really wanted to be the ones. first. “
His catering partner Ben said he had “definitely” missed being in a pub, adding, “I like going out to eat. It is the atmosphere that you miss the most. “
Health secretary Matt Hancock hasn’t ruled out imposing local lockdown restrictions in places most affected by the Indian variant of the coronavirus.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said he was concerned the restrictions should be lifted if the COVID-19 vaccines offered to people did not provide the required level of protection.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today show: ‘I think we’ll see an increase in cases and infections over the next few weeks as some of the restrictions are lifted, but I think the key question is whether we have decoupled the increase in transmission and the number of people who are infected from the number of people who get sick and have to go to hospital or with a long COVID.
“If we decoupled them, then I think the country can cope with a marginal degree of increased transmission.
“We’re at this point where we’ve lifted the restrictions, and yet we don’t have all that amount of information – I think it’s reasonable to lift them today, but I think we all need to be really , really thorough. “
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there were “concerns” about the small number of older people who had not yet accepted an offer of the vaccine.
He told Times Radio: “The greatest risk comes from, if there are a large number of elderly people who are not vaccinated. “
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told LBC radio that the odds of delaying the June 21 date were “well below 50%,” but added that ‘he was “uncertain”.
He said: “There has always been a risk that if we have another wave of infection between now and the end of the vaccination program, we end up with a large number of people in the hospital.
“This new variant seems to be more transferable, and so it just increased that risk a little bit. “
Asked whether plans for June 21 could be delayed, Professor Adam Finn said there was “real uncertainty” about the roadmap for the lockdown.
“It’s always been history, that things don’t always go as planned,” he told Sky News.
“You make plans, and then something changes, and I think we’re still in a place where that’s perfectly likely to happen.
“I really hope that these current concerns around this variant evaporate, that everything goes according to plan, but I think we just have to accept the possibility that we are in another big wave and that we will have to change what we are. let’s do. .
“This is not good news for people at companies I know, but it is the reality… We are facing real uncertainty here. ”