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Rishi Sunak may agree to two-week Freedom Day delay

Rishi Sunak may agree to two-week Freedom Day delay: Chancellor could accept lockdown extension as scientists get jittery over spread of Indian variant

  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak could accept extension to the UK’s lockdown on June 21
  • Ministers considering delaying the final stage of the road map out of lockdown
  • Some now pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as July 23

Rishi Sunak could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown – but for no longer than ‘a week or two’.

As some call for ‘Freedom Day’ to be delayed by a month, Tory pressure grew to stick to June 21.

Ministers are considering delaying the final stage of the road map out of lockdown following jittery warnings from scientists about the spread of the Indian variant.

Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23. 

Rishi Sunak could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown

The Chancellor is among a string of Cabinet ministers pressing Boris Johnson to stick to the target date, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’ but would resist any further slippage as this could involve extending the furlough scheme.

‘I don’t think he’s in principle against a short delay if that is what is necessary,’ the source said. ‘If it is more than a week or two then that is problematic.’ 

Treasury sources said there were no plans to extend the furlough scheme, which continues in full until the end of this month. From July, employers will have to make a gradually increasing contribution until the scheme ends in September.

Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. 

Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.

Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the first time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.

Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. Pictured: People line up to receive their Covid vaccination in Stanmore, London

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday that only three of the 126 people hospitalised by the Indian variant in the UK had been fully vaccinated. But a further 28 in hospital – just over a fifth of the total – had received one jab.

Mr Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty are said to have argued that a short delay would enable many more to gain the extra protection of a second jab. But Michael Gove, who is also urging caution, is said to believe Mr Johnson will press ahead with lifting at least some restrictions on June 21.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister wanted to see more data before announcing the decision on Monday. 

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to overrule the scientists. 

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists have got themselves into a frightened state where none of them want to be the one who says unlock because they are fearful they will be blamed if something goes wrong, even though there is no evidence that it will.

‘They are drifting towards a zero Covid goal, which is unattainable, and the politicians have to take back control.’

Former Cabinet minister David Jones also warned against further delay. ‘We cannot continue to live as we have for the last 15 months,’ he said. At some stage we have to take our courage in our hands and start getting back to normal, and that stage is now.’ 

SIX MILLION people are told to stay outdoors: A tenth of the UK’s population gets tough new ‘advice’ to curb Indian ‘Delta’ variant in the North West of England

By Sophie Borland for The Daily Mail 

Nearly six million residents in the North West were yesterday told to meet other people outdoors and keep travel to a minimum to curb the spread of Covid’s Indian variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions currently in place in Bolton would be expanded across the rest of Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

People will be urged to avoid meeting others inside where possible, cut back on travel in and out of the region and maintain social distancing.

The 22 councils in the region will be given military support to help with Covid testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Local leaders last night insisted the measures do not amount to a North West lockdown, but ‘guidance and advice’ for residents.

Although people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire have been told to minimise travel, they are still allowed to go on holiday. However, ministers are urging the 5.7million covered by the guidance to be cautious about social interaction in the face of high rates of the Indian variant.

Mr Hancock described the measures, which affect nearly one in ten of the UK population, as a ‘strengthened package of support’. He also admitted the Government faces a ‘challenging decision’ in working out whether ‘Freedom Day’ – the final step in lifting lockdown – can go ahead as planned on June 21.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions currently in place in Bolton would be expanded across the rest of Greater Manchester and Lancashire

He told the Commons: ‘We know that this approach can work. We’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.

‘This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and Lancashire and, of course, it’s vital that people in these areas, as everywhere else, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.’

He added: ‘We face a challenging decision ahead of June 21. These are difficult judgments.’

Mr Hancock also stressed that ‘conclusive data’ on the effectiveness of the vaccine against the Indian variant would not be available for at least two more weeks.

He said Public Health England officials were trying to determine the crucial figure which would show how effective the jabs were at reducing serious diseases and hospital admissions. He added: ‘It’s obviously an absolutely critical figure and I’ll report it to the House as soon as we have it.’

The areas affected by the measures – which cover ten council areas in Greater Manchester and 12 in Lancashire – all have particularly high cases of the Indian variant, which has since been renamed the Delta variant.

The 22 councils in the region will be given military support to help with Covid testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools

But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham insisted the measures were guidance rather than a regional lockdown.

He said it was ‘very important to keep a sense of proportion’, adding: ‘This is guidance – it is advice to the public. It is not a lockdown. It is not a ban.

‘This is not about telling people to cancel their plans – it is about asking them to be careful in setting any new ones, to minimise non-essential travel.’

He urged ministers to release extra vaccine stocks, saying: ‘We are not asking for any more vaccine here than our fair share. What we are asking for is the bringing forward of Greater Manchester’s supplies so that we can run a surge vaccination programme over the next three weeks.’

Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said: ‘We remain hopeful that with these measures in place Step Four of the roadmap on June 21 will go ahead.

‘However, we must not allow a disregard for the guidance now to affect those chances.

‘We must all continue to work as one to help prevent a surge of infections delaying our exit from this crisis – from those taking the time to discuss vaccine concerns with friends and family to the thousands of businesses who have worked hard to implement measures to aid the reduction in transmission.’

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