Boris Johnson today hinted that the June 21 ‘freedom day’ will go ahead as he said he still does not see ‘anything’ in coronavirus data that would prevent the roadmap going ahead.
The PM delivered a bullish message on the prospects for the unlocking in England after a week of anxiety about whether the Indian variant will derail the country’s hopes.
Mr Johnson also flatly ruled out introducing ‘Covid certificates’ to get into pubs next month – words that will delight increasingly restive Tory MPs.
And he suggested that the details of the plans for June 21 will be unveiled by the end of the month, earlier than had been feared after the latest mutant strain started to fuel cases.
The positive comments contrasted with the position taken by Nicola Sturgeon, who announced this afternoon that Glasgow will stay in tougher Level 3 restrictions for another week, and warned that the R rate might be above one in Scotland as the variant spreads.
Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to Portsmouth, Mr Johnson said: ‘We will be letting everybody know exactly what sort of arrangements to expect for June 21.
‘But what I can tell you, and just to stress that I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the road map – obviously we must remain cautious but I’m seeing nothing that makes me think we have to deviate.
‘But on June 21 and vaccine certification – or Covid status certification I should say – people should bear in mind that I don’t see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else.’
Pressed on whether the public will continue to be asked to wear masks, Mr Johnson replied: ‘We will let people know as much as we possibly can by the end of the month about weddings, for instance.
‘All the details we’ll try and let people know by the end of the month about exactly where we think we’ll be on June 21, Step 4.’
The Prime Minister said eliminating the measure was the ‘single biggest difference’ the government could bring about in order to get pubs back into action, and he was eager for the rule to be scrapped by June 21, The Times reports
As long as the rule is in force, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other hospitality businesses remain financially unviable, having to legally keep customers separated while using their premises, industry leaders have warned. Pictured: A bartender prepares cocktails at the Prince of Peckham pub, as it reopens to indoor customers, in London, Monday, May 17
While the Indian variant is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country, 60 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to record a case (shown in grey). But it is likely the variant has spread even further than the map suggests because the data only goes up to May 8. Experts have said they expect it to overtake the Kent strain and become dominant in the coming weeks and months
ONLY THREE HOTSPOTS HAVE CLEAR CASE RISES
Just three of the 15 Indian variant hotspots in the UK are seeing clear rises in infection rates, surge testing data has revealed.
Almost 3,500 cases of the Indian Covid variant have now been spotted across the UK, with the number of people testing positive for the strain having more than doubled in a week.
But the latest data has suggested that scientists’ fears about the Indian strain being more transmissible than the already highly virulent Kent variant may be unfounded.
In the over-60s, cases are not rising in any of the hotspots outside of Bolton – meaning vaccines are likely working to protect the elderly from the disease, The Times reports.
Full figures on the results of the surge testing – which is being carried out in areas including Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow and Kirklees – will be released next week, as current data is only preliminary.
Public Health England’s weekly update said the B.1.617.2 variant had been detected 3,424 times by May 19, up from 1,313 a week ago.
The bulk of the cases have been in the North West of England — mostly in Bolton and Blackburn — and in London but PHE said clusters were cropping up across the country.
The PM raised hopes by telling Conservative MPs earlier this week that his still expects the ‘one-metre plus’ rule for social distancing to be scrapped in June.
He told the 1922 committee that eliminating the measure was the ‘single biggest difference’ the government could bring about in order to get Britain’s pubs back into action.
Industry leaders say as long as the rule is in force many pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other hospitality businesses will not be financially viable.
Many have had to keep their doors closed throughout the coronavirus crisis.
The UK’s daily Covid deaths have fallen by more than a third in a week as seven more victims and 2,874 positive tests were recorded. Yesterday’s infections were up slightly on the 2,657 last Thursday, a rise of about 8 per cent, but the national case rate has remained stable since April.
More than 37million people have now received one vaccine injection — the equivalent of more than 70 per cent of all adults — and 21.2million are fully inoculated.
But the rise of the Indian Covid variant had sparked concerns that plans to end social distancing measures were in jeopardy, but on Wednesday Mr Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs he was confident about abolishing the one-metre plus rule next month.
One MP who was at the 1922 meeting said: ‘He seemed very upbeat about removing the one-metre-plus rule next month.
‘He told us he fully realises that it is the biggest difference the government can make to letting pubs serve customers in reasonably normal conditions and that means getting rid of any capacity restrictions.’
Chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, Emma McClarkin, welcomed the news.
She said: ‘Given pubs are financially unviable under the current restrictions they face, being able to reopen without any restrictions at all from June 21 is going to be vital to their survival.’
It comes amid a glimmer of hope for a return to normality as England and Wales’ rapidly shrinking Covid outbreaks were laid bare by an interactive map that showed nearly 90 per cent of more than 7,000 neighbourhoods saw no deaths from the virus last month.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveal April was the first month since August 2020 where the number of deaths was below the five-year average, with fewer than 1,000 virus-linked fatalities.
The overall death rate in England — 851.2 per 100,000 people — was the lowest rate for April since the ONS started recording mortality rates in 2001.
Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections
Cases of a coronavirus variant first detected in India are rising in the UK, potentially threatening the lockdown-easing roadmap
MailOnline analysis shows the proportion of English and Welsh neighbourhoods with zero deaths increased from 57.9 per cent in March to 87.6 per cent last month — some 6,301 areas.
Just ten areas saw three deaths each, which was the highest amount for any postcode.
They were: Hounslow West in London, Summerfield in Birmingham, Woodthorpe and Arno Vale in Gedling, Great Sankey in Warrington, Birley in Sheffield, Stornton and Sixfields in Northampton, Grimsargh and Goosnargh in Preston, Rusper, Faygate and Leechpool in Horsham, Bridlington West in East Riding of Yorkshire and Canvey Island South West in Castle Point.
The ONS data also revealed that Covid was just the ninth leading cause of death in England last month — its lowest ranking since September 2020. Heart disease and dementia were the leading killers.
A total of 941 deaths were due to coronavirus in April, the equivalent of 2.4 per cent of all deaths registered in England. Another 35 were recorded in Wales.
Deaths have plunged over the past few months because of both strict lockdown restrictions and the mammoth vaccination drive, which has seen almost 37million adults jabbed.
Public Health England bosses have hailed ‘hugely encouraging’ data that showed cases remained ‘stable’ nationally at around 12,000 last week, and dropped in all age groups except 5 to 9-year-olds. Hospitalisations with the virus also fell across the country, while infection rates dipped in every region except the North West, which is struggling against an outbreak of the Indian strain.
Britain today also recorded just seven Covid deaths as the fatality toll continues to drop. Meanwhile, infections are flat with another 2,874 positive tests recorded. For comparison, 11 deaths and 2,657 cases were posted this time last week.
PHE also revealed that it had detected another mutant Covid variant in Yorkshire and the Humber which it has assigned as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’.
The strain — temporarily named AV.1 — has been spotted 49 times so far and there is currently no evidence that it causes more severe disease or renders vaccines less effective. Its effect on transmission is not yet understood.
Flat hospital and death rates in Bolton are first sign jabs work well and NHS won’t be overwhelmed by Indian variant, experts say
The Covid outbreak in Bolton may be the first sign that the NHS won’t be overwhelmed by the Indian variant, scientists say.
The mutant B.1.617.2 strain is dominant in the Greater Manchester borough, and is behind a huge spike in cases that has made it the UK’s Covid capital.
Infections have almost soared to levels seen during January’s second wave, with around 150 positive tests now being reported every day compared to fewer than 20 in April.
The town’s infection rate has doubled to 283 per 100,000 people in a week – but a huge testing drive means far more people are being regular checked for the disease.
The surge in cases has yet to translate into an uptick in Covid hospitalisations, with just one person on average being admitted each day.
Deaths also remain flat with just two fatalities recorded in May.
Infections in Bolton have almost soared to levels seen during January’s second wave, with around 150 positive tests now being reported every day compared to fewer than 20 in April
The surge in cases has yet to translate into an uptick in Covid hospitalisations, with just one person on average being admitted each day
Deaths also remain flat with just two fatalities recorded in May
Dr Simon Clarke, a molecular biologist from Reading University, said this was confirmation that the jabs protect well against the strain.
An upbeat Matt Hancock led a Downing Street press conference last night where he claimed the Government had ‘increasing confidence’ the vaccines were highly effective against the Indian variant.
He had echoed comments made by Boris Johnson earlier in the House of Commons, who said he’d been presented promising data highlighting the strength of the jabs.
Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘They [the Government] will be looking at these hospital rates in Bolton and they seem to be very comfortable about them.
‘So I don’t think it [the variant] is going to be the disaster some people thought at first.’
He urged people to continue taking precautions and not get too lax with the rules.
‘Just because the vaccines work against the strain, I think we always knew that was going to be the case.
‘What we don’t really know is whether the jabs will be just as effective against the Indian variant as they are the Kent one.
‘So I think focusing n the top efficacy numbers can sometimes give people false confidence.’
Bolton’s outbreak is mainly being driven by younger people, who face only a tiny risk of dying or falling severely ill with Covid.
Government scientists have said the spread appears to be predominantly happening within South Asian communities in the town, who are more likely to live in multigenerational households and in high density housing.
The fact infection rates remain low in elderly age groups may be further proof that the vaccines are preventing younger people passing it on to senior relatives, Dr Clarke said.
However there has been a recent uptick in case rates in people in over 60, with about 43 cases per 100,000 people according to the most recent count. For comparison, the rate is believed to be about 300 for teenagers aged 15 to 19.
As it stands, a total of 156,927 people have been vaccinated in Bolton, of which 89,137 have been fully immunised
Ministers will be keeping a close eye on whether the rate in the over-60s rises rapidly or begin to translate into hospitalisations.
It can take several weeks for people to fall severely ill with the disease after catching it.
As it stands, a total of 156,927 people have been vaccinated in Bolton, of which 89,137 have been fully immunised.
Latest NHS England figures suggest 81 per cent of over-40s in Bolton have accepted their jab, which is on par with the national average.
Ministers yesterday offered hope that England’s June 21 lockdown-easing plans were still able to go ahead because of fresh evidence that vaccines work against B.1.617.2.
No10’s official spokesperson said the optimism was based on daily figures, such as hospital admissions and testing rates. But they warned it could take time before the Government was confident that ‘freedom day’ can still go ahead as planned.