Variant fear may postpone London's pursuit of 'one-way road to freedom'

Add Time:2021-05-21 Hits:80

The United Kingdom is unlikely to end what remains of its novel coronavirus lockdown on June 21, but continue instead with some restrictions, several national newspapers have reported.

Previously, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said, in his road map out of lockdown, that he hoped face masks and limits on crowding could be removed on June 21, along with the last vestiges of the nation's latest lockdown.

But The Guardian newspaper said on Thursday that Johnson's Cabinet has now started to look at "diluting" what has become known as "freedom day", because of fears about a variant first detected in India.

Johnson, the Financial Times noted, will be reluctant to change his road map because he is under pressure from lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party to get the economy moving again. The paper said he will also want to stick to his road map, which he said was a "one-way road to freedom" when he unveiled it in February.

But The Guardian quoted Health Secretary Matt Hancock as saying the government would make a final announcement on June 14 about what would happen on June 21.

"We've always known that one of the things that has the potential to knock us off track would be a new variant," he said. "That's why we made the presence of a new variant that could do that one of our four tests when we set out the road map."

Hancock said the government will do all in its power to keep the variant, which is known as B.1.617.2, under control.

As of Wednesday evening, there were 2,967 confirmed cases of the B.1.617.2 variant in the UK, which was 28 percent more than there were on Monday.

Public Health England said the tests that confirm the presence of the variant take several days to process, so the actual number will be far higher.

Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, said during a news briefing on Wednesday that it will become clear in the coming days whether a complete end of the lockdown will be possible on June 21, or whether concerns about the variant will postpone it.

He said "data will begin to firm up sometime next week" that will "then feed into models that will help (the government) understand how this looks in terms of the future prospects".

In the meantime, a professor who is an infectious disease expert at University College London and a government advisor, said on the BBC's Breakfast TV news program on Thursday that specific measures may be needed to combat the B1.617.2 variant.

Andrew Hayward said he fears the variant could already be kicking off a third wave of infections in the UK.

"Obviously, we're doing everything we can to contain the spread of that, but it's likely that more generalized measures may start to be needed to control it," he said.

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