SAGE advisers today called for June 21 ‘freedom day’ to be delayed ‘for several weeks’ amid rising cases of the Indian variant.
Professor Susan Michie, who sits on SPI-B subgroup, warned Britain was perched on a ‘knife-edge’ and running the risk of cases spiking just like before Christmas.
‘Either it could run away as it did before Christmas, which would be extremely serious and we’d have more restrictions, or it could be contained,’ the University College London health psychologist told Sky News.
Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the powerful NERVTAG subcommittee, also sounded the alarm today saying Britain’s cases could become ‘quite explosive’ in weeks.
The Cambridge University microbiologist added vaccines were giving people a ‘false sense of security’ because they were slowing the rise in infections.
Speaking in a personal capacity on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think the problem is we are not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus.
‘I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice warned today the Government ‘couldn’t rule anything out’ when asked if June 21 ‘freedom day’ could be delayed.
Britain’s Covid cases have risen by almost 50 per cent in seven days after 3,240 were recorded yesterday. The UK registered more than 4,000 infections on Friday for the first time since the start of April.
Boris Johnson’s roadmap will see the remaining restrictions — including burdensome face masks and social distancing — relaxed on June 21 ‘freedom day’.
But Government sources have hinted the chance of this going ahead is now ’50 – 50′ because of rising case numbers.
Ministers are not set to make a final decision on whether to go ahead with the last stage until June 14, a week before the last easings are due to come into force.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised he will be led by ‘data not dates’, and said his easings roadmap will be ‘irreversible’.
Professor Ravi Gupta, who sits on NERVTAG, was speaking in a personal capacity when he urged ministers to slow down lockdown easings. Professor Susan Michie, who sits on the SPI-B subgroup, warned Britain was perched on a knife edge and running the risk of cases going the same way as at Christmas
This map shows how Covid cases changed across the country in the week up to May 23, the latest available. It indicates infections rose fastest in parts of London and the North West where the Indian variant is dominant, but that they are also rising in other areas
Environment Secretary George Eustice today warned he could not rule anything out when asked whether the June 21 ‘freedom day’ could be delayed
Professor Michie urged Britons to take extra precautions today amid rising infections in the country.
‘Everybody’s behaviour could potentially make the difference,’ she warned.
‘So the key thing at the moment is for people to do their socialising outdoors, and if people are inside, make sure windows and doors are open.’
Professor Gupta insisted: ‘If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.
‘Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.’
Mr Eustice told told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The Prime Minister has said all along that he is going to take this one step at a time and will only make the judgement on the next step, on June 21, about a week before that.
‘I think he is excepted to say something in a couple of weeks’ time on June 14.
‘The rates are going up again slightly but from a low base and probably to be expected, given there are a significant number of younger people who are now out and mixing but haven’t had the vaccine – I suppose that is to be expected.
‘But the right thing to do in a couple of weeks’ time is to assess that data before deciding what we can do.’
Asked whether businesses should prepare for a delay to the unlocking, Mr Eustice replied: ‘I’ve said all along, as has Matt Hancock and the Prime Minister, we can’t rule anything out because we know this has been a difficult pandemic, a dynamic situation.
‘We have to make that judgement a couple of weeks before. It will only be by then that we will see the full impact of the latest easements we made on May 17, so I know everyone wants to know what is going to happen but we can’t actually make that judgement until we see the impact of the easements just made.’
Daily coronavirus cases have risen by nearly 40 per cent in a week to 3,240 as deaths rose by 20 per cent while more than 537,000 vaccinations were carried out in England yesterday amid fears of the spread of the Indian variant
It came as France said British travellers must have a ‘compelling reason’ to visit the country as President Emmanuel Macron battles to suppress the Indian variant.
Travel from the UK will only be permitted for EU nationals, French residents or those travelling for essential reasons such as bereavement or childcare.
Those who are allowed to make the journey must take a pre-departure Covid test and quarantine for seven days on arrival.
The British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the new French rules apply to all air, car, ferry and train passengers.
France is currently listed as an ‘amber’ destination by the UK Government, which means people are being advised against travelling there – while those who do must self-isolate for 10 days and take two tests on return.
Stricter rules for visitors from the UK were first raised by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week amid concern over the Indian variant.
An explanation of the new rules on the website of the Consulate General of France in London said: ‘Given the development of the so-called Indian variant, health measures have been tightened for people travelling to France from the UK.’
It added that from this morning ‘compelling reasons will be required for foreign nationals outside the EU not resident in France to travel to France from the UK’.
The website said ‘a PCR or antigen test less than 48 hours old will be required from anyone travelling to France from the UK’ while on arrival ‘travellers are obliged to self-isolate for seven days’.
The information added that ‘due to the low incidence of coronavirus in the UK, for the moment they will not be subject to systematic checks where they are staying’.
France’s move follows Austria, which said on Tuesday it was banning UK direct flights and tourists, and Germany, which said on Friday that anyone entering from the UK would have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.