Boris Johnson: Spread of Delta variant is 'serious, serious concern'

12 June 2021, 15:43

Boris Johnson said the spread of the Delta Covid variant is a "serious concern"
Boris Johnson said the spread of the Delta Covid variant is a "serious concern". Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has said the government must be "cautious" when deciding whether to end lockdown restrictions as the spread of the Delta variant is a matter of "serious, serious concern".

The prime minister told the media it is important to ensure that any relaxation of Covid-19 measures is "irreversible".

However, he acknowledged that hospitalisations and cases of the strain first identified in India are on the rise.

Speaking during the G7 summit in Cornwall, he insisted that no decisions have been taken on the government's roadmap ahead of a formal announcement on Monday.

However he stressed that there had been a deterioration in the situation due to a surge in cases of the Delta variant since the start of the month.

"It's clear that the Indian variant is more transmissible and it's also true that the cases are going up, and that the levels of hospitalisation are going up," he said.

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"Now, we don't know exactly to what extent that is going to feed through into extra mortality, but clearly it's a matter of serious, serious concern."

Asked if he was less optimistic now than he was at the end of May, he said: "Yes, that's certainly fair.

"What we want to do is make sure that the road map is irreversible, but you can't have an irreversible road map unless you're prepared to be cautious.

"Some of the data is still open to question, but we'll be making an announcement on Monday."

His comments come as experts warned ministers to be "cautious" when easing lockdown restrictions in England.

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Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Nervtag advisory group, said it was a "disappointing setback" that the Delta variant seemed even more transmissible than previous strains.

Meanwhile, Professor Tom Solomon - director of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool - said the country could not afford a "bad decision" on unlocking.

Ministers and officials are studying the data over the weekend - with a formal announcement due on Monday - as they race to roll out the vaccine to younger age groups.

Mr Johnson told ITV News: "We're looking at all the data but what we're wanting to do is avoid another wave of deaths that could be prevented by allowing the vaccines to work in the way that they are.

"The vaccine programme has been absolutely astonishing and there's no question that if you look at the people going into hospital now they tend to be in different groups, younger groups, than we saw in the first couple of waves of the pandemic.

"But it may be that in the race between the vaccines and the virus, we need to make sure we give the vaccines extra legs."

Scientists now estimate that 96 per cent of all new cases of coronavirus are attributed to the Delta variant.

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show there have been 42,323 cases of the Delta variant confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from the previous week.

It estimates the strain is 60 per cent more transmissible compared with the previously dominant Alpha, or Kent, variant, and that cases are doubling every four-and-a-half days in some parts of England.