Public must help to suppress virus
THE public must help suppress the Covid19 infection rate in the face of the Indian variant if the planned lifting of restrictions in June is to stay on track, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi urged people in the 15 areas of England with spread of the Indian variant of concern to follow local health advice, get tested and isolate if they test positive.
London and the North West have seen the biggest rise in cases, with Public Health England (PHE) data showing the Indian variant has been responsible for four deaths as of May 12.
Asked if the June 21 road map easing – when all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted – could be put on ice, Mr Zahawi told LBC’s Nick Ferrari that this Monday’s reopening of indoor meet-ups “is still on”.
When pressed on whether the plans for June 21 could be paused, he said: “The way we don’t have to do that is by everybody doing their bit, by taking the two tests a week, doing your PCR test in those areas, and to isolate, isolate, isolate.
“We have got to break the cycle of infection, because one of those big tests was infection rates have to be suppressed, and the other big test is variants.
“If those cause a problem, then the tests will fail. The four tests have to be met for June 21.”
Mr Zahawi said the seven-day rolling average figures for infection show a 12.4% rise, but hospital admissions are down by 7.9%.
“That is good news because it tells you that the vaccines are clearly working in terms of hospitalisation and severe infections... but the infection rate is what is concerning, which is why we have to surge test and then isolate,” he said.
The Government is looking at ways to “flex” the rollout of vaccines in the worst hit areas such as the North West, including vaccinating everyone in multi-generational households from 18-year-olds to grandparents, Mr Zahawi said.
More vaccine doses have been sent to Bolton, which has a particularly high rate of the Indian variant, while 800,000 PCR tests have been sent to 15 separate areas of the England, including parts of London and Merseyside.
One option also being considered by clinical advisers to the Government is to bring forward the date for second doses of vaccine for the elderly and vulnerable in regions where the Indian variant is spreading.
Because of the seriousness of the Indian variant, prime minister Boris Johnson hosted a press conference yesterday and said that if it proves to be “significantly more transmissible” than other strains “we’re likely to face some hard choices”.
Mr Johnson also announced that second doses of coronavirus vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable across the country to be given eight weeks after the first dose.