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UPDATE 2-Ministers will make England lockdown easing decision on June 14

Sun, 16th May 2021 09:07

* Pandemic under control, says health minister

* Says early data shows vaccine effective against Indian
variant

* Delay to full reopening could damage economic recovery
(Adds data on cases, quotes and context)

By William James

LONDON, May 16 (Reuters) - Ministers will make a decision on
June 14 about whether or not to proceed with the final phase of
lockdown easing in England, health minister Matt Hancock said on
Sunday, describing the pandemic as "under control".

On Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that
Britain would accelerate its COVID-19 vaccination programme to
try to contain a fast-spreading variant first identified in
India, warning that Britain's reopening could be knocked off
track by the Indian variant.

"We'll make a final decision for step four, which is the
biggest step on the roadmap. We'll make that final decision on
the 14th of June," Hancock told Sky News.

Any delay to the reopening could affect the country's
predicted recovery from its worst economic slump in three
centuries and spark fresh criticism of the government's
management of the crisis.

Britain, which has one of the world's highest official
deaths tolls at 127,675, currently has low overall rates of
infection thanks largely to the success of its vaccine rollout.

Official data shows the seven-day average of daily
infections is about 2,200 and that nearly 70% of the adult
population has received at least one vaccine dose.

The British government manages lockdown restrictions for
England, while devolved authorities for Wales, Scotland and
Northern Ireland take their own decisions.

In England, the last of four stages in the removal of
lockdown restrictions that have been in place since early
January is scheduled for June 21 and could ditch social
distancing measures entirely.

The planned third stage of easing starts on Monday. Among
other measures, people will be allowed to hug each other again
and pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers inside.

"The whole pandemic is currently under control," Hancock
told the BBC. "But the Indian variant, it does appear, transmits
more easily from person to person and so we have to be careful."

Hancock rejected criticism from political opponents that the
government had been too slow to shut its borders to arrivals
from India while cases there were surging. He said the decision
had been taken before the variant had been officially designated
as one of concern.

The minister said there were slightly more than 1,300 cases
of the Indian variant in Britain and early data showed that
vaccines should still be effective against this variant.

"There is new, very early data out from Oxford University,
and I would stress that this is from the labs, it's not clinical
data, and it is very early, but it does give us a degree of
confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant,"
Hancock said.

He said that five people who had received their first dose
of the vaccine had been hospitalised with the Indian variant and
one - whom he described as "frail" - had been hospitalised after
having both doses.
(Reporting by William James
Editing by David Clarke and David Goodman)

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