World Variant fears could delay social distancing review

17:41  17 may  2021
17:41  17 may  2021 Source:   bbc.com

Where will the next COVID hotspots be?

  Where will the next COVID hotspots be? Dr Khan explains how India’s troubles are spreading across the sub-continent, while pregnant women are dying in Brazil.India has seen a rapid and well-publicised increase in COVID cases. After a stepwise easing of restrictions across the country throughout 2020, India’s leader, President Narendra Modi, declared the country was in the “end game” of the pandemic. Soon after this bold statement, large religious and political gatherings were allowed to take place with little regard for social distancing and, inevitably, cases began to soar. On May 3, India hit the grim milestone of 20 million COVID cases, though the true number is thought to be much higher.

A review of social distancing rules in England may be delayed as a result of the spread of the Indian Covid variant, Downing Street has said.

Mass testing and increased vaccinations have been taking place in Bolton amid concerns over the variant © Getty Images Mass testing and increased vaccinations have been taking place in Bolton amid concerns over the variant

Boris Johnson had said he hoped to update businesses by the end of this month ahead of the planned lifting of all remaining restrictions on 21 June.

However, No 10 said the government now "cannot be definitive at this point".

It comes as the prime minister urged caution as rules were eased further in England, Wales and most of Scotland.

Millions of people can now socialise indoors in limited numbers, stay in hotels, hug loved ones and visit pubs and restaurants inside. The ban on foreign travel has also been lifted and replaced with new rules.

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From 21 June, it was hoped all legal limits on social contact would be removed, meaning unlimited guests could attend events such as weddings, and nightclubs would be allowed to reopen.

Ahead of this, a review of the new measures - as well as the possible use of coronavirus status certification or passports - had been expected by the end of May.

The government has said the further easing of restrictions depends on its four tests being met - including that vaccines continue to be effective and the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants.

  • Live updates: Lockdown easing not luring people to High Streets
  • More than 6,000 vaccinated in Bolton over variant
  • Why is the India variant causing concern in the UK?
  • What are Monday's big changes to lockdown?

The prime minister's official spokesman said the government "want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare".

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  COVID at lowest level since August - amid fears Indian variant could push infections back up According to data from the latest round of the React-1 study, prevalence of COVID-19 infections dropped by 50% between March and early May.A special message from Microsoft News: India is currently being devastated by a deadly second wave of Covid. You can support Oxfam's Covid relief efforts in India, including reaching out to the most affected and vulnerable communities, distributing and installing medical equipment and accessories, and supporting the most marginalised households. You can donate here.

However, he added: "The Indian variant could pose a threat to this process - our decision will be based on latest data. We will set out plans as soon as the data allows."

Monday's rule changes come in as the variant first identified in India continues to spread in the UK, with mass testing rolled out to hotspots including Bolton in Greater Manchester and parts of London and Sefton.

Speaking ahead of the relaxation, Mr Johnson said the government was keeping the variant "under close observation" and "taking swift action where infection rates are rising".

Asked whether ministers would consider a return to a tiered system of rules, the prime minister's spokesman later said: "I don't want to get ahead of where we are at the moment and start getting into hypothetical situations."

But he said there was a "very targeted increase in surge vaccinations and testing in these areas where we're seeing rises and that's what we want to proceed with if at all possible - but we don't want to rule anything out."

Get the jab plea as Army deployed in hotspots

  Get the jab plea as Army deployed in hotspots Eligible people in areas where the Indian virus variant is circulating are urged to get vaccinated.Health Minister Edward Argar said there had been a "minor increase" in hospital presentations mainly among 35-65 year olds who were unvaccinated in Bolton.

Scientists believe the variant does spread more easily, but early data suggests vaccines still work. The exact impact on vaccine efficacy - if any - is yet to be confirmed.

a man and a woman sitting at a table with a plate of food: Restaurants began serving customers indoors again on Monday © PA Media Restaurants began serving customers indoors again on Monday

Downing Street said its concern was about a worst case scenario where people who had had the jab were still vulnerable.

"That would then lead to increased hospitalisations and put unsustainable pressure on our NHS. That's the situation we are attempting to avoid here."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons at 16:30 BST.

How are the rules changing on Monday?


  • People can now meet indoors in groups of up to six or two households, or in groups of up to 30 outdoors. Overnight stays are allowed
  • Pubs, bars and restaurants can serve customers indoors
  • Museums, cinemas, children's play areas, theatres, concert halls and sports stadiums can all reopen, as can hotels
  • Social distancing guidance is changing and contact with other households like hugs is a matter of personal choice

Scotland (except Glasgow and Moray):

Ministers urge vaccine take up amid variant fears

  Ministers urge vaccine take up amid variant fears Matt Hancock is urging anyone who is unsure about having a Covid jab to "look at the situation in Bolton".The health secretary said anyone who is unsure to "look at...Bolton" - where he said most people in hospital with Covid were eligible for a jab but refused it.

  • People can meet indoors in groups of six from up to three households. Outdoors, up to eight people from eight households can mix
  • Pubs and restaurants can serve alcohol indoors until 22:30
  • Entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres and bingo halls can reopen and up to 100 people are allowed at indoor events


  • Pubs and restaurants can reopen indoors and customers can meet in groups of up to six from six households
  • All holiday accommodation can reopen
  • Cinemas, bowling alleys, museums, galleries and theatres can reopen
  • No change to indoor socialising - this is still restricted to extended households where two households can mix with each other and have physical contact

And in all three nations, foreign holidays are allowed.

Northern Ireland will review lockdown rules on 20 May, with the hope that some could be lifted on 24 May.

Read more about the changes here.

Earlier, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "very confident" the government would be able to lift England's remaining restrictions on 21 June but added he "can't guarantee that".

He said: "There is flexibility here because we have another five weeks till the reopening and we will be revisiting the data."

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's independent scientific advisory group Sage, said Monday's lifting of the rules was a "very finely balanced" decision.

Local lockdowns and delay to next step of roadmap cannot be ruled out, minister warns

  Local lockdowns and delay to next step of roadmap cannot be ruled out, minister warns Rising cases of the Indian COVID variant could delay the easing of restrictions and force the government to impose local lockdowns, a minister has warned. When asked if the proposed end of restrictions in England on 21 June may not go ahead as planned, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: "We cannot rule anything out." Your browser does not support this video He said imposing local lockdowns in areas where the population remains at risk while opening up the rest of the country is one of the options being looked at.

He said the variant was "becoming dominant in parts of the UK, and yet vaccination across the country has been extraordinary successful", adding: "A very careful lifting is reasonable, but we may have to reverse that if there is escape from the vaccines."


By Greg Dawson, BBC News political correspondent

Just a week ago Boris Johnson stood at the podium in Downing Street and talked of his hopes that the government would be able to update businesses by the end of May on the future social distancing rules.

That commitment is already looking shaky.

It is an indication of just how seriously the government views the emergence of the Indian variant that Downing Street today admitted that deadline could slip.

An expected update for when weddings will be able to resume as normal also looks to be on hold; the prime minister's original intention was to give people 28 days notice ahead of the planned 21 June re-opening.

The government has been adamant for months that it wants this lockdown to be the last.

However, it has repeatedly said it wants to be guided by "data and not dates", and at the moment there simply isn't enough data on how serious the Indian variant could be, and how quickly it is spreading within the UK for the government to confidently stand by previously stated deadlines.

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Pfizer and AZ jabs work against Indian variant .
They are effective against symptomatic disease but protection is low after only one dose, a study says.Two jabs of either vaccine give a similar level of protection against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant as they do for the Kent one.

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