Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that there is a ‘high degree of confidence’ that existing COVID-19 vaccines provide protection against the Indian variant of the virus and has urged people that are eligible to take up their offer to be vaccinated.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Mr Hancock said there was very early data from labs that suggested that current COVID vaccines provide protection against the variant, which is believed to be particularly easy to transmit.
Concerns about the variant have come ahead of Monday’s easing of lockdown restrictions, which are still due to take place in England. From Monday, indoor hospitality, accommodation and a range of other venues including most indoor entertainment settings will be allowed to reopen. A number of easements will also be made to restrictions in Scotland, while Wales has delayed some easements but will continue with others – such as the reopening of indoor hospitality.
Monday will also see a change in the rules that permits international travel for leisure reasons for the first time in months. Travel will though be restricted, with people having to quarantine when visiting or upon returning from most destinations.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Hancock said the Government was satisfied that its tests for easing lockdown measures were continuing to be met and that ministers would continue to monitor the data in the coming weeks to consider whether further restrictions can be eased in June. If England’s roadmap for easing restrictions remains on track, all restrictions could be lifted from 21 June – though Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Friday that the Indian variant could cause ‘serious disruption’ to lockdown easements planned for June.
The accelerating of the vaccination programme and rapid coronavirus testing is currently being seen by ministers as the way forward in tackling the variant while moving out of restrictions – with scientists saying they expect the Indian variant to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the UK.
Over 1,300 cases of the Indian variant of COVID-19 have been identified so far in the UK, with the variant has been spreading particularly quickly in some areas including Bolton and Blackburn. Cases of the virus in the UK as a whole have though remained low – 1,926 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the UK on Sunday, while 4 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were also reported.
Currently, people who will be aged 38 or over on 1 July 2021 can book their coronavirus vaccinations through the NHS. To date, more than 20 million people in the UK have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.