Will we go back into lockdown again this year? It’s a concern held by many as the new Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 90% of new Covid-19 cases in the UK.
Boris Johnson announced the lockdown roadmap in February, calling it a “cautious but irreversible” plan out of the pandemic. It’s subject to four tests at each stage to ensure that restrictions are lifting when it’s safe. And so far, the plan has gone ahead without a hitch – partially due to the record-levels of vaccinations. At the time of writing, 30 million people have now been fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford vaccine.
However, one test for lifting lockdown requires no new variants of concern that change the coronavirus risk level. With huge spikes in cases of the Delta variant identified across the UK, the government have warned that the route out of restrictions may not be as straightforward as planned.
Will we go back into lockdown this year?
Despite the new variant, it’s looking like we won’t go back into a full lockdown later this year.
The government has delayed lifting lockdown on June 21 by four weeks. With Boris Johnson only giving the green light on new lockdown wedding rules for the time being. However, this doesn’t mean we’re going back into lockdown. On May 17, the government lifted many social restrictions and they have no plans to re-impose these following the announcement.
According to the latest government data, over half of all adults in the UK have now had both jabs and almost 42 million people have had one dose. Research from the University of Oxford suggests that having even just one dose substantially reduces the chance of passing on the virus. However, other research indicates that the more people who have both doses of the vaccine, the less chance there is for the virus to spread. This means that as millions wait for their vaccinations, they risk catching, spreading and becoming ill.
Researchers have also revealed new Covid-19 symptoms linked to the Delta variant. They include symptoms more similar to a common cold, including a headache, runny nose and sore throat.
This is one of the reasons why local lockdowns like we saw last year could certainly be imposed on areas with worrying numbers of coronavirus cases in the coming months. Many areas have already been advised to adhere to less relaxed social distancing rules, like avoiding hugging and maintaining a strict 2 metre distance from anyone in a different household. The advice is not enforceable by law, though, as the government clarified recently following accusations of ‘lockdown by stealth’.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that there will be some “trade-offs” in opening up the country again. He said, “We can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence.”
But he added, “I want to be frank about what exactly that means and the trade-offs involved. The vaccines reduce the danger of Covid: they save lives and they keep people out of hospital. But no vaccine against any disease has ever been 100 per cent effective. So whenever we ease lockdown, whether it is today or in six or nine months, we’ve got to be realistic and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalisations and therefore – sadly – more deaths, just as there are every year with flu.”
“Even if we sustained the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease.”
He also said that there is “no route” to a Covid-free country or indeed a Zero Covid World”. So, the plan going forward was to protect people against the virus rather than try and defeat it altogether.
This is by no means a clear-cut refusal to put the country into lockdown again. However, the widening vaccination programme and the government’s roadmap would suggest that they will avoid having another lockdown this year.
To ensure the vaccination programme continues successfully, the government also are considering giving the Covid vaccine to children. However, the wider impact of this on infection rates is still under review.
What have the experts said about a third wave?
Experts, including Professor Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge, have recently warned that the UK is in the early stages of a third wave. He has called on the government to delay the end of lockdown on June 21. Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) team, and Professor Christina Pagel at University College London, have both echoed this call.
Professor Hayward has argued that there was a “good argument for caution”. He told BBC Breakfast that the country was on the cusp of a third wave. “I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively. Although it was originally imported through travel to India, it’s spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities. So I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.
“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that. But it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.”
The professor said he was personally concerned about the new variant. He added, “concern largely arises from the fact that it’s more transmissible than the previous variant which was already substantially more transmissible than the variant before that.”
New data suggests that cases of coronavirus are now doubling every fortnight, although this is based on very recent data. This rise in infections is about as fast or even faster than in September last year. This was when the government’s scientific advisers first suggested another lockdown. However, there were problems with data and diagnosing infections at that time.
In September last year, hospital admissions were also doubling every fortnight. Now they are staying almost flat across the UK. This achievement is because of the country’s vaccination programme, particularly in older populations, experts suggest. Despite this, some experts have concerns that hospital admissions are still rising in areas affected by the new Delta variant.
Lockdown delay: Could easing lockdown on June 21 be delayed?
The government are delaying lockdown easing by four weeks, Boris Johnson has confirmed.
The PM said that postponing the end of lockdown would allow for more people to receive their second jab. This would create a “very considerable wall of immunity around the whole of the population” and help prevent further deaths.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Johnson said it was “sensible to wait just a little longer” before lifting restrictions. However, he confirmed the new lockdown end date of July 19.
“It is unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” he said.
“We can simply keep going with all of Step 4 on 21 June, even though there is a real possibility that the virus will outrun the vaccines and that thousands more deaths would ensue which could otherwise have been avoided.
“Or else we can give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them,” he said.
The government had planned to lift all restrictions on social contact on June 21. While many of the restrictions have already lifted, including those on how many people can mix indoors and outside, some rules will stay for another month. These include restrictions on nightclubs and other hospitality venues, as well as social distancing regulations, such as wearing face masks in public spaces.
The Prime Minister also confirmed that the new variant was the cause for delaying the end of lockdown. He said that the government were “concerned by the Delta variant”. It’s now “spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap”.
“We’re seeing cases growing by about 64 per cent per week. In the worst affected areas, it’s doubling every week. And the average number of people being admitted to hospital in England has increased by 50 per cent week on week, and by 61 per cent in the North West, which may be the shape of things to come. Because we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth and even if the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened it has not been severed,” he said.
Because of this, the country’s infection rates and vaccination levels did not meet all four tests for lifting lockdown.
Tests for lifting the lockdown are:
- The vaccine programme going as planned
- Vaccines remaining effective at reducing hospitalisations and deaths
- Infection rates not risking a surge in hospitalisations and pressure on the NHS
- No new risks due to variants.
To not go back into lockdown this year, the country must pass all four of these tests.