Spread of Delta variant casts doubt on UK plan to remove restrictions on June 21st

Government’s former chief scientific adviser says Britain is in ‘a perilous moment’

Britain has recorded no daily coronavirus deaths for the first time since March last year, although 3,165 new cases of the virus were reported. The figures come as concerns about the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, have cast doubt on plans to remove almost all lockdown restrictions on June 21st.

"The vaccines are clearly working – protecting you, those around you, and your loved ones," said health secretary Matt Hancock.

“But despite this undoubtedly good news we know we haven’t beaten this virus yet, and with cases continuing to rise please remember hands, face, space and let in fresh air when indoors and, of course, make sure when you can you get both jabs.”

However, the government's former chief scientific adviser Mark Walport said Britain was in "a perilous moment".


He said it was clear the Delta variant was taking over, and now accounted for 75 per cent of new infections, but more information was needed before a final decision should be made about reopening on June 21st.

“Firstly, we have got a new more transmissible variant, of that there is no doubt, though we don’t know exactly how much more transmissible.

Secondly, there’s been a change in behaviour following the relaxation of measures on May 17th, and the effects of that will just be starting to come through.

“And, thirdly, we’ve got a vaccination programme that is very successful, but with a lot of people that still need both their second dose of vaccine and vaccination from scratch. I’m afraid that weeks before the prime minister has to make the difficult decision it is going to be necessary to bring in the data,” he told the BBC.

Coronavirus cases are beginning to rise steeply in parts of northwest England, and there has been a small rise in hospitalisations for the virus, although numbers remain well below those seen at the peak of previous waves of infection.

Entertainment venues

Indoor hospitality reopened in England on May 17th, along with museums, cinemas and other indoor entertainment venues.

June 21st should see the lifting of restrictions on numbers for indoor gatherings such as weddings, but the government has yet to determine whether to lift social distancing restrictions such as the one metre-plus rule or to lift the recommendation to work from home.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith called on the prime minister to ignore "an organised push by a group of scientists" to delay the further reopening of the economy.

“These figures are calculated on the back of an envelope. There is no actual fact that says we shouldn’t unlock on June 21st,” he told Talk Radio.

“We were always told that the most important feature of all of this is to protect the most vulnerable. We have now double-dosed pretty near 50 per cent of the population and that encompasses all the most vulnerable.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times