Face masks and home working guidance could remain after the 21 June roadmap date so other Covid restrictions can be lifted, the Health Secretary has warned.
Matt Hancock said while nothing in the data suggests “we are definitively off track” with the UK Government’s plans to unlock England later this month, he insisted it was too early to tell whether the final stage can go ahead.
He said further decisions would be made in the coming weeks about specific coronavirus rules like mask-wearing and working from home.
The Times previously reported that ministers wanted to “prioritise” the ending of social-distancing measures such as the rule of six and the one-metre plus rule, which would help the hospitality industry get back on its feet.
Amid the rise in cases and the surge of the Delta variant, ministers could decide to keep some less restrictive measures in place.
‘Too early to make decision’ on 21 June
“There is nothing in the data to suggest we are definitively off track but it is too early to make the decision about June 21, step four in the road map,” Mr Hancock told a press conference at the Jenner Institute in Oxford.
“We’ll make that decision based on more data in the next week to 10 days, ahead of June 14, as we’ve set out.”
His comments come after Boris Johnson insisted there is “nothing in the data at the moment” to prevent ending Covid-19 restrictions, as the proportion of deaths involving the virus fell to the lowest level in eight months.
But the Prime Minister also warned there is a need for caution, saying there is “no question” of an increase in infection rates.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show 9,860 deaths from all causes registered in the week ending May 21, and of these, 1.1% (107 deaths) had “novel coronavirus” mentioned on the death certificate.
The last time the proportion was so low was in the week ending September 11, when the virus accounted for 1.0% of deaths, according to PA news agency analysis.
It was also confirmed on Wednesday that 75% of UK adults across the UK had now had their first coronavirus jab, and 50% of adults in England had received both doses.
‘The data is still ambiguous’
Debate is continuing over whether the final stages of unlocking restrictions in England can go ahead on June 21, due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
Mr Johnson warned: “We’ve got to be so cautious because there’s no question, the ONS data of infection rates is showing an increase.
The Prime Minister said: “We always knew that was going to happen.”
But he added: “What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, against a new surge.
“And there, I’m afraid, the data is just still ambiguous.”
Mr Hancock stressed the importance of monitoring the number of people who had received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine ahead of further restrictions easing on June 21.
“We are constantly vigilant as to the impact of that second dose,” he said.
“The critical question is, given that the order of vaccination is according to your vulnerability to ending up in hospital and dying, that means the second doses now cover the vast majority of those who are likely to end up dying from Covid-19.
“We can see the number of cases has been rising in the last couple of weeks but we can also see that the vast majority of people who have ended up in hospital are not yet fully vaccinated,” he said.
“The critical link is how much that link is broken and that’s how we’ll make the decision ahead of June 21.”