Lockdown easing ‘may lead to increase in variants’

From 17 May, small groups of people will be allowed to meet inside their homes as well as in pubs, cafés, restaurants and other businesses and some international travel for leisure will resume. Boris Johnson is expected to announce that this stage of lockdown easing will go ahead as planned at a press conference this afternoon.

Easing lockdown restrictions may increase the number of Covid-19 cases and variants of the virus in the UK, a minister has warned.

Health minister Nadine Dorries said that Brits must remain “cautious” after the third stage of the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown is reached later this month because the UK is “still in the tail end of the pandemic”.

Ms Dorries told BBC Breakfast: “The important thing is that we are all aware that as we move into each step of easement that there may be an increase in the variants or there may be an increase in the virus.

“Our objective is to nail that virus to make sure that we are never as a country in the position we were last year again and that we move out of this cautiously and safely.”

But met with the suggestion that people should “cautiously cuddle” when social distancing restrictions are relaxed for close friends and family next week, Ms Dorries said with a laugh that she doesn’t believe such a thing is possible.

“I don’t think you can cautiously cuddle. We’re incredibly aware that everybody wants to get together, people want to hug each other, people want to entertain in their own homes,” she said. “That’s why we have a roadmap that people can follow.”

The best way to prevent variants from scuppering the the UK’s progress in fighting Covid-19 is to help speed up the global vaccine rollout, according to an Oxford University immunologist.

“Tactically the most important thing for us to do is to make sure that other bits of the world get vaccines faster – the state of global vaccination is pretty lamentable at the moment and I think we need to really push to help that happen much more effectively,” Professor John Bell told Good Morning Britain.

“Because, in the end, we’re vulnerable, not because we haven’t vaccinated our population, but if more variants come onshore from overseas – which they will naturally as people start to travel – we’re potentially going to be in trouble and that’s why we have a real interest in making sure everyone else is vaccinated. That plus the humanitarian importance of making sure that people don’t die unnecessarily.”

One third of adults in the UK have now been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and two thirds have received their first jab. But in India, for instance, where the B.1.617.2 variant – recently named a variant of concern by Public Health England – originated, fewer than one in ten adults have received even a single vaccine doses, official figures show.

Cases of B.1.617.2 in the UK doubled last week from 202 to 520, according to health officials, with the majority identified in northwest England – mainly Bolton – and London.

But foreign travel for leisure purposes will remain heavily restricted even from 17 May, with just 12 destinations on the UK’s ‘green list’ of countries to which relatively restriction-free travel is possible.

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