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End of covid-19 lockdown in England may be delayed, scientists say

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Coronavirus infection numbers are rising again in England

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The planned lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England on 21 June may have to be delayed, prominent scientists have said, with rising infection numbers threatening to cause a third wave.

On Monday, 3383 lab-confirmed cases were confirmed in the UK – the sixth day in a row that 3000 or more cases had been recorded.

The B.1.617.2 variant from India – now named the delta variant – may now be responsible for up to three quarters of cases in the country, the health secretary Matt Hancock said last week.

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Ravi Gupta from the University of Cambridge, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said a delay of a few weeks could have a significant impact on the UK’s battle against the pandemic and recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on the surge in cases of the new variant.

“Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this,” Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Across the UK, almost three-quarters (74.8 per cent) of the adult population has had their first covid-19 vaccine, with almost half (48.5 per cent) having had their second.

But despite the success of the immunisation programme, many people remain vulnerable, said Adam Finn from the University of Bristol, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

“There’s vulnerability across the country. The idea that somehow the job is done is wrong,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We’ve still got a lot of people out there who’ve neither had this virus, nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we’re in a vulnerable position right now.”

Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, said ministers need more data before they can make a final decision.

“The situation is very delicately balanced with some three sets of moving parts,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“Firstly, we have got a new more transmissible variant, of that there is no doubt, though we don’t know exactly how much more transmissible.

“Secondly, there’s been a change in behaviour following the relaxation of measures on May 17 and the effects of that will just be starting to come through.

“Thirdly, we’ve got a vaccination programme that is very successful, but with a lot of people that still need both their second dose of vaccine and vaccination from scratch.

“I’m afraid that weeks before the prime minister has to make the difficult decision, it is going to be necessary to bring in the data.”

Asked if the nation is in the foothills of another wave, he added: “I hope not, but it’s not impossible.”

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