Boris Johnson issued an urgent plea today for millions more people to get the coronavirus jab as a Cabinet minister admitted that the June 21 final easing of restrictions could be delayed and local lockdowns imposed.
Amid growing fears that the Indian variant could fuel a third wave in Britain, the Prime Minister urged: “When you get the call, get the jab.” On a visit to the London Business Design Centre’s vaccination facility in central London, he added: “Vaccines are the best way to protect people from the virus. They have already saved thousands of lives and they will continue to do so.”
Invitations are now going out to 37-year-olds to get the first dose. Earlier, Mr Johnson chaired Cabinet as the Government was urged to “throw the kitchen sink” at hotspots of the Indian B1.617.2 variant including Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn.
After a sudden rise in confirmed cases, particularly among young children, Environment Secretary George Eustice said ministers still wanted the planned lifting of restrictions in England on June 21 to go ahead but “we can never rule out that there may have to be a delay”.
He also warned on Times Radio: “If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas then of course we can’t rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns.”
His gloomy words contrasted with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng just 24 hours earlier saying that “there is nothing I have seen and nothing the Prime Minister has seen up to now that suggests we are going to delay that June 21 date,” although he admitted that that could not be guaranteed.
Amid claims that chances were now “close to nil” of the June 21 relaxation going ahead as planned, a government source told ITV News that some of this week’s easing, including indoor socialising and the reopening of pubs and restaurants indoors, may even have to be reversed.
The hope had been that all remaining legal limits on social contact would be removed on June 21, meaning unlimited numbers of guests at events such as weddings, and nightclubs allowed to reopen.
In other developments:
* Covid-19 cases detected among young children in Britain’s Indian variant worst hotspot have spiralled at least five-fold in just 12 days. The highest seven-day rate in Bolton is among 10 to 14-year-olds, at 585.6 per 100,000 as of May 12, up from 106.5 in the week to May 1. Public health chiefs believe the hike is due to increased testing in schools and other venues.
* Singapore is closing most of its schools from tomorrow to try to keep the Indian variant under control. Health minister Ong Ye Kung has said that the mutation appears to affect children more than other strains.
* Bedford’s director of public health said she was “really worried” about the local increase in Covid-19 cases linked to the Indian variant, highlighting how they were being spread from schools. Vicky Head said: “One of the really striking things about the variant, is just how transmissible it is. If someone goes to school and tests positive, we are then seeing their whole family test positive.” Bedford’s rate jumped from 61.2 cases in the week up to May 6 to 123.5 per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 13.
* Amid growing criticism that the Government was too late in putting India on the “red” list of countries to stop arrivals into the UK, Mr Eustice insisted: “We did put India on the list as soon as we saw an uptick in prevalence and well before the Indian variant was declared a variant of concern.”
* Professor Gabriel Scally, a member of Independent Sage, told Sky News “we should be throwing the kitchen sink at this” in places like Bolton and Blackburn to reduce infection. Cases of the variant have been detected across London, but so far there is little evidence of significant community transmission.