The senior Cabinet minister said the government was “absolutely open” to delaying the final lifting of England’s COVID lockdown on June 21 if necessary. Hancock insisted June 21 was a “not before” date to end restrictions and 10 Downing Street “would look at the data”. He said the spread of the Delta variant was behind a recent rise in coronavirus infections in the country.
However, he pointed out that a majority of those in hospital as a result of the Delta variant had not had a vaccine at all and only a “small minority” had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which the minister said reflects the scientific advice that one vaccine is not quite as effective against the Delta variant of concern (VOC) as against the Alpha variant but both doses are just as effective.
“That figure, around 40 per cent more transmissible, is the latest advice that I have. That means that it is more difficult to manage this virus with the new Delta variant, but crucially we believe that with two doses of the vaccine you get the same protection as the old variant,” Hancock said.
One of the four critical tests set by the government for a reopening is that the assessment of the risk from the deadly virus is not fundamentally changed by new VOC.
The other three tests cover the vaccine deployment programme continuing successfully; evidence showing vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; and infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. Three out of the four tests are currently being met, with the risk assessment from the Delta VOC the only unknown factor ahead of June 14 when the government is expected to confirm whether the unlocking roadmap will stay on track for June 21.