The chances of further easing lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June “are looking good” if people continue to follow coronavirus guidance, one of the country’s top physicians has said.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the data was pointing in the right direction with less than a month to go until the next stage in England’s roadmap.
Dr Harries comments came hours after another bumper day for the UK’s world-leading vaccine programme. Some 60 million vaccines have now been administered across the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Sunday, in what he described as a “huge” day in the battle against Covid.
Meanwhile, the number of second vaccine doses administered in a single day hit a record daily high. Some 556,951 jabs were given on Saturday, surpassing the previous high of 547,636 on 24 April.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show earlier in the day, Ms Harries said progress has been good but warned caution was needed to avoid further lockdowns.
She said: “It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals, so we should not stop doing what we’re doing, particularly in areas where we have that variant of concern, the B1617.2, in the northwest and around London.
“It’s really important that people continue to do hands, face, space and work from home, have their jabs and go for tests as well.
“The cases of the B1617.2 variant are rising, they have risen very steeply and much of the media have reported a 160 per cent rise in cases over the week period but they seem to be slightly levelling at the moment. It’s still very early days.”
Dr Harries added: “We all need to be very cautious and I think we all don’t want to go back to the sort of lockdowns that we’ve had, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on Sage or out in the public, none of us want to return to that sort of restriction.”
From June 21 at the earliest, nightclubs are due to reopen and restrictions on large events such as festivals are to be lifted, as are restrictions on the number of people at weddings.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that Boris Johnson was planning to address the nation this week to set out what the government knows about the Indian variant and what impact it might have on the easing of lockdown. Firm confirmation on whether it will go ahead as planned will not come until 14 June.
However, Professor Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, believed there may be an “adjustment” to the lifting of restrictions.
Asked how likely it is that measures will be lifted on that date, he told Times Radio on Sunday: “We’re effectively in a race with the vaccine programme against the virus.
“We know that we’re letting the virus out by spreading it about now, we know that we’re progressing well with the vaccine programme, but I think there’s going to need to be an adjustment of some sort.”
A study by Public Health England (PHE) published on Saturday found that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is 88 per cent effective against the Indian variant after two doses.
The study, which took place between 5 April and 16 May, found that the jab was found to be almost as effective against symptomatic disease from the B1617.2 strain as it is against the Kent variant, with 93 per cent effectiveness.
Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca jab was 60 per cent effective, compared with 66 per cent against the Kent variant over the same period.
Both vaccines were 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant three weeks after the first dose, compared with about 50 per cent against the Kent strain.