Scientists urge caution over June 21 unlocking as daily Covid cases rise

29 May 2021, 09:41 | Updated: 29 May 2021, 09:43

Experts have urged caution over the June 21 relaxation date
Experts have urged caution over the June 21 relaxation date. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Scientists have urged the Government to be cautious about opening up again on June 21 as coronavirus cases began to rise.

Ministers have been cautious about committing to the date to release, saying they will judge the data closer to the that time.

But experts have increasingly begun to promote caution over another unlocking as the Indian variant continues to spread, with it now accounting for up to 75% of cases.

Friday brought the highest daily rise in cases since 1 April, with 4,182 reported. It was the third day in a row newly-reported infections were above 3,000.

However, Boris Johnson has said he has not seen any reason yet to see the roadmap out of lockdown be derailed.

In an interview with the Guardian, Cambridge Professor Sir Tim Gowers, who argued against a herd immunity strategy and helped bring about the first lockdown last year, warned "things will get bad very, very quickly" if the Government fails to account for the spread of new variants.

"The downside of being a bit more cautious is quite a lot smaller than the downside of getting it wrong," he said.

His comments follow epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson's warning that the June 21 unlocking "hangs in the balance" because of the Indian variant, which is thought to be more transmissible but vulnerable to vaccines.

UCL's Professor Christina Pagel, who sits on the Independent SAGE group, said she wanted a higher percentage of adults to have received both doses of a Covid vaccine before the June 21 unlock - which could mean waiting until the end of August.

"I know that seems like a long time but I would prefer to wait under the freedoms we have now than risk losing those freedoms if we get a really bad third wave," she told Sky News.

Prof Ferguson's modelling is also said to have been instrumental in convincing the Government to lock down last year.

Boris Johnson has said he hasn’t seen "anything currently in the data" to suggest the unlocking would need to be pushed back but admitted "we may need to wait".

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "I really, really want to focus on the 21st of June, but what I can’t do is guarantee – give guarantees – on the 28th of May, which is today."

England's roadmap out of lockdown has been designed to be cautious but irreversible by the Government, which is desperate to avoid having to reverse the easing of restrictions as it has done in the past.

National and local lockdowns have been implemented after Covid began to spread exponentially when limits on social distancing and businesses were relaxed.

The June 21 date is step four in the roadmap, when the Government says it hopes to reopen remaining businesses that were considered too risky to bring back alongside indoor hospitality, like nightclubs and adult entertainment venues.

Restrictions on social contact and large events are due to go, subject to the findings from a research programme examining if large events can be made safer.

COVID-secure requirements on businesses will also be dropped, subject to findings from reviews.

However, a report in The Times said if the Indian variant continues to surge, facemasks and guidance to work from home where possible would stay under Government plans to make dropping social distancing rules the priority.