Lockdown may be extended as ‘too early to say’ if June 21 goes ahead as planned
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Britain's long-awaited end of lockdown could be pushed back even further, Matt Hancock has warned.
Speaking to MPs on Thursday, the Health Secretary said: "My assessment is that it is too early now to say yet whether we can take the full step forward on the 21st of June.
"I desperately want us to. We will make a formal assessment ahead of the 14th of June as to what step we can take on the 21st."
June 21, unofficially dubbed Liberation Day or Freedom Day by some, was the date flagged by the government for all existing Covid restrictions to be lifted including unlimited indoor gatherings and the reopening of nightclubs and full sports venues.
But the emergence of the more-contagious Indian variant in recent weeks has plunged that date into uncertainty.
On May 18, the day after pubs and restaurants were granted the freedom to serve customers indoors, a government adviser told ITV: "It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we've set out for 21 June is likely to happen."
The adviser said it is "also possible some of the easing we've done" the day before will have to be "reversed" – but did not specify which parts.
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However this week the news that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer significant protection against Covid-19 after both doses renewed hopes the end of lockdown is in sight.
The evidence was "quite clear" and going in the "right direction", according to Professor Susan Hopkins, PHE's Covid-19 strategic response director.
UK Health Security Agency CEO Dr Jenny Harries said the plans to end of lockdown on June 21 were "looking good".
Home Secretary Priti Patel supported Dr Harries' claim, adding: "The data is positive in terms of where we are – look at the vaccine information that has been published today about the level of protection against specific variants."
The government has always maintained that the data around infection rates must dictate when the nation can take another step toward freedom.
On Thursday Mr Hancock also denied Dominic Cumming's claim that he had lied to colleagues about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling them "unsubstantiated allegations".
"These allegations that were put yesterday – and repeated by [Jonathan Ashworth] – are serious allegations, and I welcome the opportunity to come to the house to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true and I've been straight with people in public and in private throughout," he said.
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