‘Increasing confidence’ vaccines work against Indian variant

Vigilance and responsibilty key as curbs replaced with protection, Hancock says

Free wheelchair provision for Covid-19 vaccination appointments is offered in Blackburn, in England’s  northwest, as the government is criticised for  confused messages about travel. Photograph:  Oli Scarff

Free wheelchair provision for Covid-19 vaccination appointments is offered in Blackburn, in England’s northwest, as the government is criticised for confused messages about travel. Photograph: Oli Scarff

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Boris Johnson has expressed confidence that vaccines are effective against the Indian variant of coronavirus, easing fears that next month’s easing of lockdown restrictions could be delayed. The number of cases of the new variant has quadrupled in the past two weeks, with almost 3,000 cases now reported.

But Mr Johnson told MPs that new data suggested that vaccination offered effective protection against the variant, which has become the dominant strain of the virus in some parts of the country.

“We have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant. In this context, I want particularly to thank the people of Bolton, Blackburn and many other places who have been coming forward in record numbers to get vaccinated – to get their first and second jabs. I think that the numbers have doubled in Bolton alone,” the prime minister said.

Almost 37 million people, 70 per cent of British adults, have now received their first vaccine dose and 20 million have received their second. At a press conference in Downing Street, health secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccine rollout was responsible for turning the tide against the pandemic.

Right strategy

He said the majority of people who were hospitalised in Bolton with the Indian variant of coronavirus were unvaccinated but that overall hospitalisations and deaths remained very low.

“That means that our strategy is the right one – to carefully replace restrictions on freedom with the protection from the vaccine,” he said.

“But we must proceed with vigilance and with everyone taking personal responsibility.”

Indoor hospitality, museums, theatres and cinemas reopened in England this week and restrictions on gatherings at home and outdoors were eased. The government’s roadmap foresees almost all restrictions being lifted on June 21st, although reviews before then will determine the extent to which social distancing and travel restrictions will be eased.

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said people should think carefully about the freedoms they have, weigh up the risks and act with caution.

Confused messages

“If it is possible to do something outside, better to do it outside; if it is possible to do something with smaller numbers with people you know rather than multiple new contacts, it’s better to do that. Take it steady,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer criticised the government for a confused message about travelling abroad after it moved 170 countries from the red list for quarantine to amber. He said people needed certainty about the circumstances in which they could travel to an amber country.

“Yesterday morning, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs said that people could fly to amber list countries if they wanted to visit family or friends. By the afternoon, a health minister said that nobody should travel outside Britain this year, and that, ‘Travelling is dangerous’. The prime minister said that travel to amber countries should be only where it is essential. By the evening, the Welsh secretary suggested that ‘some people might think a holiday is essential’. The government have lost control of the messaging,” he said.

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