Lockdown Could Be Extended by “Between Two Weeks and a Month” Following “Grim” Briefing to Ministers by Whitty and Vallance

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said (and not for the first time): “[It] still remains that there is nothing in the data currently to suggest step four [of the lockdown roadmap] can’t go ahead at the earliest date.” Unfortunately, reports today are far more pessimistic about a June 21st unlock. This is largely due to a “fairly grim” briefing given to ministers by the Government’s two most senior scientific advisers on Monday. The Times has the story.

Britain’s roadmap for easing lockdown could be delayed by a fortnight with cabinet ministers increasingly pessimistic after a “downbeat” briefing from Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.

Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, yesterday gave a briefing to ministers on the latest data that was described as “fairly grim”.

They emphasised concerns about the rate of transmission of new strains of coronavirus, such as the Indian variant, and that vaccinations did not provide 100% protection. Millions of Britons remain unvaccinated.

One cabinet source said they expected a delay of “between two weeks and a month” but suggested that the political fallout was likely to be limited as long as the full reopening took place before the start of the school summer holidays late next month. Another said that a delay made more sense than a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions to avoid any “confusion” in messaging…

Johnson is expected to make a formal announcement on Monday, when the Government’s social distancing review will be published…

Another cabinet source described the mood in Whitehall as “downbeat”. “We always said it was June 21st at the earliest. We may need another few weeks to let the effects of vaccination take hold. Doing a partial reopening would create confusion. People have planned on the basis of a full reopening. It’s important that the messaging is consistent.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: James Melville is unimpressed by the suggestion of an extension to lockdown. “Hospitalisations are still low. One death [on Monday]. We have a vaccine. After June 21st, we can’t do this anymore. We are done.”

Stop Press 2: Matt Hancock has told four million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to “minimise travel”, get tested and only meet outdoors in a further sign that the unlocking will be delayed. MailOnline has more.

Stop Press 3: Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks to the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap, according to the Guardian.

Sunak, the Chancellor, has in the past been regarded as more keen to lift lockdown constraints than some cabinet colleagues. But a Whitehall source said he was not fixated on the June 21st date and was more concerned that when restrictions are lifted, the move can be permanent. “The Treasury’s main thing is that freedoms are irreversible and businesses have clarity,” the source said.

Worth reading in full.

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