Boris to ease lockdown on Monday but Indian variant may delay June 21 changes

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Boris Johnson says the UK will continue to take the next step towards freedom on Monday despite the new Indian coronavirus variant threatening "serious disruption" to the roadmap.

However he has not ruled out that the strain could prevent the UK from achieving its plan for a full reopening next month on June 21.

The UK will also accelerate its vaccination programme to fight the Indian variant of coronavirus, he announced.

Gaps between first and second doses will be shortened to eight weeks, and first doses will also be prioritised for those who are eligible but have yet to receive a jab.

The Prime Minister held a Downing Street conference on Friday evening, accompanied by England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

He sought to reassure Brits that the Indian variant will not set back England's planned reopening schedule at this point, but admitted the June reopening date may be in doubt.

"If the variant is significantly more transmissible, we're likely to face some hard choice," he warned.

Mr Johnson said he "has to level" with Brits and admitted the variant could pose a "serious disruption to our progress".

The government's roadmap out of lockdown intends to remove "all legal limits on social contact" from June 21, with nightclubs and sport venues allowed to fully reopen and restrictions on indoor meetings will lift.

Some social distancing rules may remain in place even if the roadmap goes ahead as planned, and the wearing of masks may still be mandatory in some public places.

There have been 1,313 cases of the mutation recorded in the UK, up from 520 the previous week.

Four people have died in the UK with the Indian variant, according to Government data. The deaths took place between May 5 and May 12.

It's believed to be more transmissible than the common strain of Covid, but it's unknown by how much. There's "no evidence" vaccines will be less effective against the variant, Mr Johnson said.

Officials are now considering prioritising second vaccine doses in the areas worst affected.

On Friday afternoon, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Glasgow and Moray would remain subject to Level 3 restrictions on Monday as the rest of mainland Scotland drops to Level 2.

Government minister James Cleverly had previously warned that the end of England's lockdown could be delayed beyond June 21 in a bid to contain the strain.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [Sage] also held an urgent meeting to discuss its spread on Thursday.

Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, believes cases will be picked up across the UK.

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He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "I think we should view it as a country-wide problem.

"It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case."

The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England remains unchanged from last week and is between 0.8 and 1, according to the latest Government figures.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but when it is below 1, it means the epidemic is shrinking.

An R number between between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 8 and 10 other people.

  • Boris Johnson
  • Coronavirus

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