Matt Hancock has warned it is “too early to say” whether lockdown measures can be scrapped on June 21 as the latest evidence shows a new Covid strain is 40% more transmissible.
The Health Secretary said the latest evidence showed the Delta variant – first detected in India – was 40% more infectious than the Kent strain which ripped through the UK in the winter.
And he raised fresh doubt over whether the Government would press ahead with its plan to lift all Covid-19 restrictions on June 21.
Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap promised to lift all legal limits on social contact at Step 4 of the roadmap – which was pencilled in for after June 21.
Asked whether he had seen anything in the data that could delay reopening this month, he told Sky News: “It is too early to make a final decision on that.
“The Prime Minister and I and the team will be looking at all of the data over this week.
“We have said that we will give people enough time ahead of the June 21 date which is pencilled in as the next step – which is to be not before June 21 – and the critical thing is to see whether the four tests we have set have been met.”
He offered glimmers of hope over the success of the vaccine programme – and he said hospitalisations were “much more flat” despite a rise in cases in recent days.
But Mr Hancock warned that it was vital to consider the “very significant impact of a new variant – the Delta (also known as the Indian) variant – over the last month or so.”