Boris Johnson will lead a press conference today, amid growing fears about the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19, particularly in ‘hotspots’ in the north west of England.
He will be joined by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, at 5pm – as calls are made for “surge vaccinations” of all younger adults in areas with the highest numbers of cases.
The press conference comes just three days before England reaches step 3 of the roadmap for lifting the lockdown – when pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors and families allowed to hug.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman hinted that surge vaccines are being planned in hotspots, saying: “I can’t get ahead of the prime minister, you will hear from him yourself later this afternoon.”
On Monday’s go-ahead, he said: “We’ve announced the changes that are taking place on Monday and the prime minister said yesterday himself he expects they will go ahead.”
The number of cases of the Indian variant in the UK has more than doubled in a week, from 520 to 1,313 – amid evidence it is more infectious.
And it has now been revealed that four people have died in the UK after becoming infected with the variant, the first known deaths in this country.
The government has said there is “no firm evidence yet to show this variant has any greater impact on severity of disease or evades the vaccine”.
The public health director in Blackburn has protested after its attempt to vaccinate all over-18s from next week was blocked by the government.
“I am furious, I cannot understand why JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] or the Department of Health and Social Care are stopping local directors of public health from taking the action they know will halt this surge,” said Professor Dominic Harrison.
“At the moment, the government is tying one hand behind my back with responding to the clear risk we have got in our local authority area – but also the clear risk to the wider North West region. It seems entirely illogical.”
Asked about the clash, and whether the JCVI was required to give the go-ahead to changing vaccination criteria, Downing Street said its job is to “advise”.
“Throughout the vaccination programme, we have accepted their advice and we have rolled out the vaccinations accordingly,” the spokesman said.
Earlier, a Covid expert said the final stage of lockdown easing – planned for 21 June – is “in doubt” because of the rising threat.
Microbiologist Professor Paul Hunter said there could be a “huge number of cases by June” and warned a rise in infections and hospitalisations in the elderly and vulnerable might force plans to change.
But Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said so-called step 4 of the roadmap would go ahead, provided the government’s four tests have been met.
They are; a successful vaccination programme, that jabs are reducing hospitalisations and deaths, that the NHS is not being overwhelmed and that new dangerous Covid variants are not taking root.
Infection rates are at their lowest level since last September, although there are still around 2,000 new cases across the UK every day.