More than 39 million people have been given a first jab and a further 25.3 million have had both doses of the vaccine
A scientific adviser to the Government has repeated calls to delay the June 21 lifting of pandemic restrictions by “a few weeks”, warning that the ability of coronavirus to adapt in the face of vaccines has still left the UK in a vulnerable position.
Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the UK’s pandemic picture had changed since its road map to recovery was drawn up, chiefly through the emergence of the Indian of B1617.2 strain of the virus.
He also warned the increased socialisation following last month’s easing of restrictions could lead to “quite a lot” of hospital admissions, and said while Britain had performed “amazingly well” in its vaccination programme, it was still too early “to put the vaccine straight up against the virus”.
Prof Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain moving back the June 21 target date could have a significant impact on the fight against the pandemic, adding it should be made clear to the public this would be a temporary measure based on recent developments.
More than 39 million people have been given a first jab and a further 25.3 million have had both doses.
Asked whether a three-week delay to the June 21 target would be sufficient while Britons were being vaccinated at a rate of four million per week, Prof Gupta said: “Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this.
“As long as it’s clear to people this is not an unlimited extension of the lockdown but actually just a reassessment, that would be realistic.
“Because we didn’t plan for the 617.2 variant when the initial road map was made, and actually things have gone really well except for the fact that we have this new variant to complicate things.
“We must remember this is a virus that does adapt, and faced with vaccines it will eventually start to make mutations to avoid them even further, and then we could be in an even more precarious situation after that.”
Prof Gupta said the UK was in “a really good position” in regard to its vaccination programme but caution remained crucial.
“The key thing here is that we’re almost there,” he said.
“The problem is we don’t want to put the vaccine straight up against the virus at a time when the vaccine coverage isn’t quite high enough; it’s not in young people, it’s not in schoolchildren, and that’s where the virus may potentially start circulating.
“We still have a lot of vulnerable people in the community who haven’t responded to the vaccine.”
Prof Gupta said it was concerning that hospital admissions could be about to rise following last month’s easing of restrictions, at a time when hospitals were dealing with large backlogs of procedures and treatments delayed because of the pandemic.
“If we’re fully unlocked on the 21st of June, we have a situation where over the next few weeks there will be a lot of mixing, there will be gatherings, because people have been waiting to do these things for a long time,” he said.
“So we will get an excess of mixing, especially in younger groups, and that will lead to some hospitalisations… quite a lot, at a time when the NHS is trying to distance within hospitals, so it does take time to get things done there, and the added pressure of having Covid cases, some of which will be severe of course, is going to have an effect on morale and clinical care for everybody.”