Local lockdowns remain a possibility in parts of England, as “intensive surveillance” continues in areas with high rates of coronavirus, a minister said.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told Times Radio there was a “clear roadmap to come out of the lockout” with a decision expected within weeks on whether the final stage of the lifting of restrictions can take place on June 21.
But he added: “If we see deterioration in some of these areas, of course we cannot rule out the establishment of some local lockdowns. Right now we’re doing a lot of intensive monitoring in these areas, with surge testing to identify and deal with it. “
There is heightened concern about the potential spread across the UK of a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in India. On Monday, public health experts said the B.1.617.2 variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the UK within days. A Downing Street spokesperson said the spread could cause a “serious disruption” to plans to further ease restrictions in early summer.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Vicky Head, Bedford’s public health director, said she was “really worried” about the local increase in Covid-19 cases linked to the new variant.
The city has the second highest coronavirus rate in England, with 214 new cases recorded in the seven days to May 13. Head said cases in Bedford had risen from “three or four” a day to up to 10 times that number over the past month.
“What we think now is that almost all of our cases are likely to be the India variant,” Head said, adding that surge tests were planned to identify those with the virus, but not show no symptoms, so make sure they isolate themselves.
The easing of restrictions continues across England, with mass events restarting, including a Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham on Tuesday, which is expected to draw 10,000 fans at Old Trafford.
Eustice was challenged on Radio 4’s Today show over whether the match muddies the waters over government recommendations and advice on social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Many Manchester United fans are expected to travel to the game from Bolton, which had the highest case rate in the country as of May 11, with 255 cases per 100,000.
The minister insisted that the government was “closely monitoring” the situation in the city. “What we do in places like Bolton… is we do surge testing in those areas so that we can monitor the situation closely and see what is happening and obviously we cannot rule out measurements that we might. take in the future ”Says Eustice.
“But for now, the answer in all of these areas is to encourage people to get vaccinated, because the vaccine still offers us the best way out of this pandemic.”