Indian variant: Boris Johnson 'ruling nothing out' amid worries about delay to roadmap

13 May 2021, 13:49 | Updated: 13 May 2021, 21:39

By Kate Buck

Concerns about the Indian coronavirus variant mean Boris Johnson is "ruling nothing out" with local lockdowns a possibility.

The Prime Minister has insisted for now the roadmap out of lockdown for England appears to be on track.

Scientists are worried about the variant's spread in the UK, with new Public Health England data set to show a big rise in cases on Thursday.

The Prime Minister said the Government is "anxious" about it.

"At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen," he said.

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"We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.

"There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."

It comes as surge testing was deployed in parts of Sefton, Merseyside, on Thursday after cases of the variant were found.

The Department of Health and Social Care said a number of cases had been discovered in the Formby area, although it did not confirm how many.

Those with confirmed cases have since self-isolated while their contacts are being identified.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was reportedly due to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the spread of the strain.

Asked if local lockdowns were possible, Mr Johnson said: "There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it.

"Obviously there's surge testing, there's surge tracing.

"If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out.

"We have always been clear we would be led by the data.

"At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21 everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get."

However, the European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday it was "pretty confident" that vaccines currently in use are effective against the Indian variant - a view echoed by some British scientists.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of Imperial College London's React programme, cited the Indian variant when asked whether the study's latest data supported a move into the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions.

Scientists have expressed fears the end of lockdown could be delayed due as UK cases of the Indian Covid-19 have tripled in a week.
Scientists have expressed fears the end of lockdown could be delayed due as UK cases of the Indian Covid-19 have tripled in a week. Picture: PA

He said: "It is a difficult question because we have low levels of prevalence in the community, and we've got low levels of disease in hospitals and deaths, so that's good.

"But I think that the patterns in the Indian variant are cause for some concern."

Surge testing has also been deployed in Bolton, Greater Manchester, after a number of cases of the variant were discovered.

Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen and South Northamptonshire have also seen a surge in the cases.

Recently re-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has called for the Government to vaccinate everyone over the age of 16 in the area to keep a control over the spread of the cases.

This week Boris Johnson confirmed that the roadmap would be going ahead as planned and from May 17 a raft of restrictions will be lifted in England.

From 17 May, people in England will be able to meet in pubs, bars and restaurants in groups of six or as two households, meaning no more requirement for only outdoor seating.

They will also be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people.

All remaining accommodation, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs, can also reopen to the public.

Read more: Lockdown - PM confirms Covid restrictions to be lifted on 17 May - all you need to know