Lockdown lifting set to be delayed after update from Whitty and Vallance

Is June 21 “on” or “off”, “green” or “red”, “go” or “irreversibly stopped”?

Which has priority: business at all costs or people’s health?

Neil Shaw www.devonlive.com

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance are reported to have given a ‘downbeat’ update on the state of coronavirus in the UK to ministers.

The briefing yesterday could mean lockdown lifting on June 21 being delayed.

That would mean easing of measures – such as permission for large events and the reopening of nightclubs – would not go ahead as planned.

Reports have suggested the final step in the Government’s road map could be delayed by two weeks, with The Times saying ministers were given a “downbeat” briefing on the latest data on Monday by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

The Times reports that they emphasised concerns over the rate of transmission of new strains of Covid, including the Delta variant (first identified in India), and that vaccinations did not provide 100 per cent protection.

A cabinet source was reported to have said that they expected a delay of “between two weeks and a month” and that Chris Whitty and Sir Vallance had expressed reservations about the timetable.

“They emphasised again that the vaccine did not provide 100 per cent protection and there were real concerns about the transmissibility of the new variants,” the source said.

“I think you’re looking at a delay of between two weeks and a month. As long as we have fully opened things up by the school holidays then I don’t think the political damage will be too great.”

Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat” and one said the delay would make sense to avoid any “confusion” in the messaging.

Ministers are said to believe that the easing of restrictions may need to be delayed to ensure all over-50s are protected.

Mr Hancock said a decision on moving to Step 4 would be delayed as long as possible, with a final announcement to be made next Monday – a week before any changes could come into effect.

Downing Street said there was “nothing in the data” to suggest a delay would be needed.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding June 21, the Health Secretary said he was confident that “one day soon freedom will return”, with the latest data suggesting vaccines were protecting people against the Delta variant first identified in India.

And as the vaccination programme moved into its final stage – with under-30s the final cohort on the vaccine priority list – the NHS described the six-month anniversary as a “watershed moment”.

NHS England national medical director Stephen Powis said: “It is remarkable to think that just six months after that first jab back in Coventry in December – Maggie Keenan got it, remember – we have now vaccinated three-quarters of the adult population with their first dose and over half with their second dose.

“That really is a tremendous achievement and of course the vaccine programme is our way out of this pandemic, so it is crucial that when you get the invite for your jab, come and get it.”

As of June 6, England has delivered 23,710,646 second doses of Covid-19 vaccine, meaning the equivalent of 53.6% of its adult population is fully vaccinated, with 76.4% of adults having received one jab.

In Wales, the equivalent of 49.5% of its adult population is fully vaccinated, with 86.5% of adults having received a first jab, while in Scotland 50.8% of adults are fully vaccinated and 76.4% of adults have received a first dose.

The equivalent of 48.9% of Northern Ireland’s adult population is fully vaccinated, while a first dose has been given to 75.1% of adults.

All adults have already been called forward to get their vaccine in Northern Ireland and most of Wales, while people aged 18 to 29 in Scotland have been asked to register for their jab, with appointments starting in mid-June.

Mr Hancock said the Delta variant “made the race between the virus and this vaccination effort tighter” but the vaccine was breaking the previously “rock solid” link between infections and hospital admissions.

The variant is thought to be 40% more transmissible than the Alpha variant first seen in Kent which swept across the UK over the winter peak.

As of June 3, from 12,383 cases of the Delta variant 464 went on ,hospital.

Of those admitted, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had received one dose and three had received both doses of the vaccine, Mr Hancock said.

The spread of the Delta variant has seen cases increase in almost all parts of north-west England, London and Scotland.

The rise in rates has yet to be mirrored by a steady increase in hospital cases. Latest data shows numbers have climbed slightly, with the seven-day average for patients in hospital reaching 912 on June 3 – the highest since May 26.

Nearly three-quarters of local areas of the UK (283 out of 380) recorded a week-on-week rise in Covid-19 case rates for the seven days to June 2, the highest proportion since January 6.

Downing Street said data emerging over the coming week will be “crucial” in deciding whether England’s legal coronavirus restrictions can end as hoped on June 21.

However:

Devon MPs urge Government to lift lockdown on June 21

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Devon’s MPs from across the political spectrum have called for the Government to go ahead and lift all remaining Covid restrictions on June 21.

Step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown, which is set to take place not before June 21, would remove all remaining legal limits on social contact, ease restrictions on large events and reopen premises such as nightclubs which have remained closed.

A review of social distancing and other long-term measures that have been put in place to cut transmission, such as wearing of face coverings and working from home, is also due to be completed with these restrictions also potentially removed.

But the relaxing of the remaining rules has been thrown into doubt by the recent rise in cases being confirmed, as well as the Delta variant, first seen in India, which is thought to be about 40 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) strain.

However, with deaths and hospitalisations staying low, and with Devon having some of the lowest Covid rates in England, the county’s MPs have urged the Government not to delay the planned lifted of restrictions on June 21.

Latest figures show that there is just one person in hospital in Devon following a positive Covid-19 test, while there have been no deaths in the county since May 9, and infection rates are at 6.9/100,000, down 35 per cent week-on-week, and the lowest they have been since September 2.

Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris, who has been a ‘lockdown sceptic’, and who voted against the third lockdown, has urged the Government not to delay the planned lifting of restrictions on June 21.

She said: “Given the specific situation we find ourselves presented with in Devon (both health-wise and economy-wise) I would urge the Government not to delay the planned lifting of restrictions on Jun 21st. While the latest steps have helped the local economy begin to get back on its feet, it won’t be until all restrictions are lifted that we will be able to enjoy the full freedom that we desperately all want.

“The vaccination rollout has been a stunning success and this should allow us to re-open with confidence. We cannot keep flinching at the slightest sign of every potential new variant. It’s damaging to physical and mental health and the economy.”

And Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw also joined the chorus of those calling for restrictions to go on June 21, saying that it should not be delayed in the county because ‘of a small number of hotter spots or because of fears about a theoretical new variant emerging’.

He added: “The data that matters now is on serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths and so far the evidence is that the vaccines protect against all currently known variants.

“There may be an argument for continuing with certain limited guidance that does not impact negatively on the economy, such as continuing to work from home if possible and wearing face protection in enclosed public spaces, but the June 21st date should not be delayed, particularly for low incidence areas like Exeter and Devon, because of a small number of hotter spots or because of fears about a theoretical new variant emerging.

“People have put up with unprecedented restrictions to their freedoms for long enough and with life returning to more or less normal across the rest of Europe, it would seem unreasonable for the Government here to impose unnecessary restrictions on the British for longer, particularly given our high vaccination rate, which the Government promised would deliver us a vaccine dividend.”

Central Devon Mel Stride MP said that the decision was ‘finely balanced’, but his hope and expectation was for June 21 to go ahead.

He said: “The decision on opening up fully is finely balanced at the moment. Hospitalisations and fatalities are obviously low but whilst many are vaccinated not all are and if the delta variant expands very rapidly over the next week then there may be a case for rowing back a little on fully opening. My hope and expectation however is that step 4 will be taken pretty much in full on the 21st.”

Sir Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, also added that the further release should go ahead.

He said: “I think it is finely balanced. Government said it would look at the date from the proceeding steps from lockdown and that is what they will do. There is a case for delaying full release until more people under 50 have been vaccinated, but my personal preference would be to proceed with the further release on the grounds that the vaccine is working and younger people tend not to get Covid seriously. The government has exercised terrific judgement on this in the last few months and I am happy to back their judgement whatever they decide.”

Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon, said: “I very much hope the decision will be driven by the data, which in North Devon remains very positive. There are the four tests which need to be met for the next phase of unlocking to go ahead and the question about “variants of concern” is one that I am not privy to the data on at this time, but my understanding of the data I am able to see is that the other three are looking optimistic and very much hope that we will be able to progress to the next stage as planned.”

No decision on whether to proceed to step 4, or delay the step, will be taken until June 14 to allow for the full four weeks of data since the relaxation of step 3 on May 17 can be seen.

The Government says that the he decision will be based on four tests – that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully, the evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated, infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, and the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.

Meanwhile the traffic build up to the West doesn’t stop:

M5 and A38 experiencing heavy traffic delays – updates

Katie Timms, Eve Watson www.devonlive.com

There is heavy traffic across Devon and Cornwall this morning.

The M5 in Tiverton is partially blocked with heavy traffic due to a broken down vehicle, which has left the northbound exit slip road up to the roundabout is reportedly blocked.