MPs pile pressure on Boris Johnson to stick to June 21 timetable for reopening the country after he admitted he might delay the end of lockdown amid fears of growing threat over Indian variant
- Hospitality chiefs and MPs told the Prime Minister to stick to Covid roadmap
- They warned delaying full lifting on June 21 would be ‘devastating’ for economy
- Said traders could go bust if social distancing or other curbs are kept too long
Boris Johnson was warned last night not to ‘steal our summer’ after he admitted he might delay the end of lockdown.
With some scientists sounding the alarm over the rise of the Indian variant, business leaders, hospitality chiefs and senior MPs told the Prime Minister to stick to his Covid roadmap.
They warned that delaying the full lifting of restrictions on June 21 would be ‘devastating’ for the economy, just as consumer confidence was flooding back. And they said traders could go bust if social distancing or other curbs were kept for longer than necessary.
But Mr Johnson yesterday cautioned ‘we may need to wait’ even though he ‘didn’t see anything in the data’ to justify not sticking to June 21. His remarks came after experts said a rise in coronavirus cases meant the date was ‘in the balance’ and Matt Hancock revealed that up to 75 per cent of new infections were of the Indian strain.
With some scientists sounding the alarm over the rise of the Indian variant, business leaders, hospitality chiefs and senior MPs told the Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured on Wednesday) to stick to his Covid roadmap
The Health Secretary said levels were at their highest in weeks and it was ‘too early’ to say whether the country could take the final step on the path to freedom next month.
However of the 49 patients in hospital with Covid in Bolton, a virus hotspot, only five have received both doses of vaccine.
William Lees-Jones, who owns a brewery and pub chain in the North West, said his message was: ‘Don’t steal our summer, Boris.’
He pleaded: ‘Let people use their commonsense. The vaccine programme has worked and the NHS is not overwhelmed. A lot of businesses in our sector will go bust if restrictions are kept in place.’
The Health Secretary said levels were at their highest in weeks and it was ‘too early’ to say whether the country could take the final step on the path to freedom next month. Pictured, customers drink at the Old Dr Butlers Head pub in London on May 17
Greg Mulholland of the Campaign for Pubs urged the Prime Minister to ‘stick to his guns’ and allow pubs to open without restrictions from June 21.
As the row over lockdown curbs grew:
- The fall-out from Dominic Cummings’ explosive evidence to MPs continued, with the PM insisting many of his claim didn’t bear ‘any relation to reality’;
- Mr Hancock was on the rack over care homes, facing repeated questions over whether he had lied;
- However an official report claimed less than 2 per cent of outbreaks in care homes had been ‘seeded’ by the transfer of infected hospital patients;
- Another 3,542 virus cases were reported, the second day in a row the UK total has topped 3,000;
- Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggested vaccine passports might not be needed beyond autumn;
- The first assessments showed an eating-out boom followed the reopening of restaurants to indoor diners;
- A trial involving nearly 500 concert-goers found there were no cases of coronavirus eight days on.
Under the roadmap, all legal limits on social contact are due to be removed next month and all premises that remain shut – including nightclubs – are expected to be allowed to reopen. But yesterday fresh doubt emerged.
Speaking on a visit to a hospital in Colchester, Mr Johnson said: ‘The question I think people want answered is … to what extent is our vaccine shield now going to be enough to allow us to go ahead on June 21 with the unlocking?
‘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.’
Another 3,542 virus cases were reported, the second day in a row the UK total topped 3,000
The Prime Minister conceded that ‘we are seeing some signs of increase in cases, particularly of the so-called Indian variant’.
He said: ‘I want to stress that we always did expect to see an increase in cases, that was always going to happen.
‘So what we need to understand is to what extent the vaccine programme is starting to make a real difference in interrupting the link between infection and hospitalisation and serious illness and death.
‘Now clearly, the vaccines are having a big impact already. The question is how big? How reliable are the vaccine fortifications?’
Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, whose modelling was instrumental to the imposition of the first lockdown, said the June 21 date was ‘in the balance’.
Dr Jenny Harries of the UK Health Security Agency told the Downing Street press conference the target date was ‘really, really just on the cusp at the moment’.
Mr Hancock pointed out however that ‘thanks to the power of vaccination’ the link from cases to hospitalisations and to deaths was ‘being severed.’
Public Health England estimates last night suggested the jab programme has prevented 13,200 deaths and 39,700 hospitalisations.
Business figures said the end of restrictions was absolutely vital. Jonathan Neame of Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame, said: ‘The sector will only be able to get back on its feet when all restrictions end. I would urge the Government to stick with the roadmap.’
Craig Beaumont of the Federation of Small Businesses said firms still closed down will by next month ‘have been shut for 15 months… [and] cannot have their glimmer of hope snuffed out’.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Tory MP for the Cotswolds, said: ‘It is extremely important to end lockdown restrictions. I can see nothing in the data at the moment that would stop us doing so.
‘We could have gone a bit quicker, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see us going any slower on June 21.’
Mark Harper of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs said: ‘We are bound to see an increase in cases as we open up – that was inevitable. The important thing is breaking that link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths.’
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