Matt Hancock Says Delta Variant Makes 21 June Reopening "More Difficult" But Insists Roadmap Will Go Ahead
The health secretary has insisted that the more-transmissible Delta variant “doesn't change [the government’s] strategy” on the final stage of lockdown lifting, but admitted it does make the decision “more difficult”.
Matt Hancock told Sky News that this new coronavirus strain, first identified in India, is believed to be 40 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha variant — often referred to as the Kent variant.
But, asked if current data suggested that the roadmap could be delayed, Hancock insisted it was “too early” to tell.
"We have said that we will give people enough time ahead of the June 21 date… and the critical thing is to see whether the four tests we have set have been met,” he said.
"That's in terms of the number of cases, and cases are rising slightly, the number of hospitalisations, which are much more flat.
"That's because the third test, the rollout of the vaccine, is going incredibly well.
"Then, of course, we have to look at the impact of new variants and we have seen a very significant impact of a new variant - the Delta (also known as the Indian) variant — over the last month or so."
In other developments:
- Those aged under 30 will be invited to book their coronavirus vaccine jabs this week, Matt Hancock has confirmed.
- Writing in The Telegraph, the health secretary also suggested that Covid vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds could be rolled out as early as August.
- Boris Johnson is set to call on world leaders at the G7 in Cornwall to pledge to vaccinate the world's population against coronavirus by the end of 2022.
- The education secretary has called on school pupils to take coronavirus tests before they return to school after half-term to help break transmission chains.
- A clinical trial has begun to explore whether a third vaccine dose could help provide more vulnerable groups with better protection against Covid-19
Ministers will decide on 14 June whether the 21 June lifting of the remaining coronavirus restrictions will go ahead, but are facing widespread calls to pause the roadmap amid fears over the impact of the Delta variant.
A group of leading scientists urged the government on Friday to “pause” the plan, claiming lifting restrictions would be “difficult to justify” amid a rise in cases linked to the strain.
Independent SAGE warned that this new strain is believed to be more infectious than previous ones and so “it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation”.
They also pointed to evidence that vaccines were less effective against Delta than other strains, especially among those who had only received one dose.
It comes as the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the UK went above 5,000 on Thursday for the first time since late March.
The health secretary is set to be grilled on how the Delta variant affects the UK’s path out of lockdown when he appears before MPs on Thursday — just days before the final roadmap decision.
The evidence session comes in the wake of Dominic Cummings’ explosive testimony last month, in which he claimed that Hancock should have been fired on up to 20 separate occasions over his handling of the early stages of the pandemic.
Cummings also suggested that the health secretary had misled the Prime Minister over sending untested hospital patients back to care homes — a claim Hancock will most likely be grilled on extensively in the session on Thursday.
Hancock has furiously denied Cummings’ claims about his effectiveness, branding them “unsubstantiated allegations” in the Commons last week.