Boris Johnson warns India variant may DERAIL June 21 lockdown lift and says we face ‘hard choices’ over roadmap

BORIS Johnson tonight put a dent in hopes of a June 21 Independence Day after admitting the Indian variant could derail his roadmap.

The PM was forced to admit his plans could crumble within weeks as where he braced people in England for a longer lockdown.

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Pals will still be able to meet in homes and pubs from Monday when the next state of lockdown easing goes ahead as planned from May 17.

But the scheduled end of all legal restrictions on June 21 could be kicked down the road if the super-infectious strain continues to spread, he warned.

Sounding a note of caution, the PM said: "I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our roadmap and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

"But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June."

Spikes in cases of the highly-infectious Indian variant are causing a headache for ministers.

When asked if the 21 June unlocking would go ahead as planned, he replied: "I think the truth is that we, at this stage, simply can't say for certain, as things stand…

"We rule nothing out.

"There is the risk of disruption and delay. We take nothing off the table of means of controlling this virus and this variant, and we will do whatever it takes to keep you all safe."

It comes as:

  • The Indian variant is 50 per cent more transmissible, new SAGE documents revealed
  • The PM announced the gap between first and second jabs would be slashed to eight weeks
  • Chris Whitty said the next few weeks were critical for finding out more about the faster spreading of the India variant
  • Four people have now died from the Indian variant, PHE said earlier
  • The army will be brought in to help in Bolton, to clamp down on a surge in cases, and vaccine sites will be kept open even longer too.
  • Experts warned that the Indian variant could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain
  • Nicola Sturgeon slowed down her roadmap and said Glasgow would stay in higher levels of rules from Monday
  • The Covid R rate crept up and could be 1.1 in parts of UK
  • Boris said it was unlikely that any more countries will be added to the green list anytime soon

The PM admitted that the race between the vaccine programme and the virus was about to get tighter, and that the June 21 total reopening may now be thrown off track.

Today he's taken swift action to get more second doses in people's arms quicker, so they are even more protected against Covid.

Currently there's a 12-week gap between first and second jabs, because studies have shown it generates more antibodies overall, but this will now be cut to eight.

He said tonight: "We will accelerate remaining second doses, especially for the clinically vulnerable, right across the country, to just eight weeks after the first date.

"And if you are in this group the NHS, will be in touch with you. We will also prioritise first jabs for anyone eligible who has not yet come forward."

Indian variant cases have more than doubled in the space of seven days from 520 last week to 1,313 this, sparking alarm in Whitehall.

More than 800,000 tests have been sent into the worst affected areas which include Bolton, Formby, and parts of London.

Extra surge testing will be sent to Bolton to try and find as many cases of the new variant as possible.

The PM said the evidence so far shows that the new variant is spreading more quickly – but it's not yet clear how much.

And he urged everyone if they were seeing loved ones to "think really carefully" about getting close to them – especially those living in Bolton.

The PM added: "There is now a greater risk from this new period and so I urge you to be extra cautious, our best chance of suppressing this variant is to clamp down on it, wherever it is and we'll be throwing everything we can, at this task."

He refused also to rule out getting over 18s their first jabs quicker, too, but no final calls have been made on this yet.

Professor Chris Whitty said that over time the India variant will become dominant in the same way the Kent strain took over.

He explained: "There are some things we want to look for and if it's a lot more transmissible it could imply we could have a really significant surge, if its medium – it will be a bit more of a race between virus and vaccine."

Boris also warned it was unlikely that more countries would be added to the green list anytime toon.

He said: "We remain alive to any change in the data and we'll react accordingly.

"I think the same spirit of caution should apply to people thinking of travelling abroad.

"There is a very limited list as you know and we will make sure that people travelling abroad will be subject to all the tests and restraints that people would expect to prevent the virus from being reimported.

"It's such a tiny list of countries and I don't expect we'll be adding to it very rapidly."

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The Sun Says

BORIS Johnson’s measured reaction to the Indian variant is the right one. But why are we even in this position?

His decision to delay travel restrictions from India last month was folly given the horrific scenes there and the discovery of this variant in March.

The Government was too slow with border curbs at the start of this crisis. It is disheartening that it failed to learn from that.

But the PM and his scientists have at least kept the uptick in cases in perspective. Our position is entirely different from last year when we were defenceless.

Vast numbers of us have been jabbed at least once. Many have near-total ­protection against hospitalisation or death, neither of which has so far risen even in the Indian variant hotspots.

So, as Boris says, it is right still to reopen on Monday but to keep June 21’s final unlocking under review.

This is hopefully just a last bump in the road. But it should not be happening at all.

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