UK PM Johnson says may need to wait before reopening England from lockdown

LONDON (Reuters) -England may need to wait before COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted as a coronavirus variant first found in India spreads, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, adding it was too soon to say whether restrictions would end on June 21.

FILE PHOTO: People walk at The Arcade shopping mall, amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bedford town centre, Britain May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Childs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has laid out a roadmap out of lockdown for England, but has warned that the rapidly spreading B.1.617.2 variant poses a risk to that plan.

Johnson said he was satisfied that the steps to ease lockdown taken thus far were correct, but that cases of the variant were spreading and it would come down to how robust the “vaccine fortifications” against the variant were.

“I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap, but we may need to wait,” Johnson said.

Health minister Matt Hancock told parliament that a formal assessment would be made on June 14 as to whether restrictions could be lifted on June 21.

“We will only do that if it’s safe,” he told parliament.

The B.1.617.2 variant of concern is thought to spread more rapidly than the previously dominant B.1.1.7 “Kent” variant, although vaccines still offer protection against severe disease.

On Saturday, Public Health England (PHE) said two shots of COVID-19 vaccine were almost as effective against B.1.617.2 as they were against the Kent variant, which Hancock said at the time increased his confidence that restrictions would be lifted next month.

Asked why the economy’s reopening would be jeopardised by the variant if COVID-19 vaccines still worked against it, Hancock said that not everyone had taken up vaccines they were eligible for.

Hancock also said that 10% of people hospitalised with the new variant had been double vaccinated – a sign that vaccines work well, but not perfectly.

“We already knew this but we’re better able to calibrate as we see these data,” he said.

“We will learn more about this over the forthcoming week or two, before we make an assessment.”

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