Breaking News Today

England mulls local lockdowns to stop Indian coronavirus variant spread

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Officials say concern over COVID variant means regional restrictions more likely as June 21 easing looms.

LONDON — Ministers are considering local lockdown measures to curb the spread of the so-called Indian variant in England as an alternative to delaying the full nationwide lifting of coronavirus measures.

Boris Johnson gave a press conference on Friday in which he warned that the transmission of COVID variant B.1.617.2 could mean “serious disruption” to the planned final exit from lockdown in England on June 21. 

However, officials familiar with Johnson’s thinking say he is reluctant to keep the whole country in a longer period of restrictions and health officials are unwilling to redirect vaccines to younger people in affected areas, raising the likelihood of locally-concentrated controls. 

One Cabinet minister said: “The PM will do what he can to keep to the national timeframe of the 21st [reopening date]. I expect local lockdowns will be more likely.”

This was underlined by a Whitehall official who suggested that of three scenarios which will be presented to Cabinet by scientific advisers — no change to the plan; a nationwide delay; or delaying certain areas — the third was the most likely.  

They added: “We are in a waiting game to see if the extended measures we have put into Bolton and Blackburn have any impact, which could take two weeks. Then we are into early June and it’s a tight window in which to make a call.”

England further eased some COVID restrictions nationwide on Monday — with indoor hospitality and foreign travel now allowed among other things — and ministers have previously stressed the need to avoid a return to a system of varying regional restrictions used last year before the country went into its third lockdown.

READ:  Russian coronavirus vaccine given green light, says Putin

In a statement to the House of Commons Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there had now been 2,323 confirmed cases of B.1.617.2. He said 483 of those were found in Blackburn and Bolton, where it is now the dominant strain.

Additional nurses were deployed to Bolton at the weekend to assist council workers in making door-to-door visits to encourage vaccine uptake, and enhanced testing facilities are available in several areas across the North West, Midlands and London.

Jabs are only available in the U.K. to those aged 37 or over at present. Two MPs representing Bolton said they wanted a wider cross-section of residents to be able to access the vaccine.

Mark Logan, Conservative MP for Bolton North East, told POLITICO: “Over the last ten days I’ve been pushing to vaccinate the whole of Bolton before the end of May. Together with surge testing, if we can keep doing that it should mean we can avoid further lockdown.”

Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, said: “We should employ the use of surge vaccinations where possible and it was disappointing that the government refused to allow Bolton Council’s health officials express permission to roll out the vaccine [to younger age groups], despite the clear need to do so.”

Both MPs expressed their opposition to any local lockdown unless absolutely critical, pointing out that Bolton has been under tough restrictions for all but a few weeks of the last year.

Medics in certain parts of Bolton have been taking the decision to vaccinate younger people there on a case-by-case basis, against central guidance on prioritization from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI). 

READ:  German economy to grow by 3 percent despite coronavirus, Berlin reckons

Both the government and NHS England appear content to let this proceed unchecked at the same time as publicly stressing that the eligibility rules have not altered.

A Department for Health and Social Care official said JCVI guidance was unlikely to change, as redeploying vaccines on a geographical basis presents a greater logistical challenge than proceeding downwards through the age groups as planned.

In his statement, Hancock placed a heavy emphasis on the need for everyone to take up jabs when offered, stating that most of the patients currently hospitalized in Bolton had been eligible to receive the vaccine.

However, local MP Qureshi said vaccine hesitancy was “the exception rather than the rule.” She said “the majority of people in Bolton” who haven’t yet taken up vaccines could point to a “lack of access to transport and lack of time to book the appointment, which can be difficult if you’re working 60 hours a week as a carer, earning as little as £8.50 an hour.”

The government has also faced criticism for being slow to place travel from India under the U.K.’s strictest travel rules, with Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth labeling the delay a “catastrophic misstep.”

Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email pro@politico.eu to request a complimentary trial.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-government-mulls-local-lockdowns-to-stop-indian-variant-spread/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

Shares
Share This
Finance Advice 2021