The Prime Minister has warned that the easing of England’s lockdown could be delayed if the Indian variant “takes off.”
In a confusing statement Johnson said that the government are “anxious” over the Indian variant and little is still known about the strain.
He said that the government are “ruling nothing out,” but England’s roadmap out of lockdown is still on track despite the Indian variant having tripled in a week.
Johnson was asked if local lockdowns were possible, he said, “There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it.
“Obviously there’s surge testing, there’s surge tracing.
“If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out.
“We have always been clear we would be led by the data.
“At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21 everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.”
Asked if masks and social distancing would be scrapped, Johnson said the government will make more announcements before the end of the month.
The Prime Minister added, “I think we have to wait a little bit longer to see how the data is looking but I am cautiously optimistic about that and provided this Indian variant doesn’t take off in the way some people fear, I think certainly things could get back much, much closer to normality.”
Professor Steven Riley, from Imperial College London, said whether the road map for England continued on its planned trajectory is a “government decision” and was optimistic as he suggested the UK was currently in a good place.
He told Times Radio, “I think there’s two key things that have got to be kind of evaluated – if infections go up, how quickly will they go up? But then after that, are they linked to the hospitalisations?
“The top-line government policy is driven by protecting the NHS, so even if infection starts to go up, we then need to assess whether that’s bringing a lot of new cases into hospitals, and there’s certainly no sign of that at the moment.”
However, Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said not enough is known about the Indian variant which could frustrate the UK’s vaccination programme.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “The vaccines don’t 100% prevent infection for people.
“What they do is, they almost 100% prevent hospitalisation and serious illness.
“We don’t know enough to know yet whether the Indian strain will behave differently than that.
“So even the regular virus can infect people who have been vaccinated and sometimes you do get reinfection.”
Professor Naismith said the variant may spread “way beyond” the local areas where it has been detected, suggesting much wider community transmission of the variant.
“I think we should view it as a countrywide problem,” he said.
“It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case.”
Prof Naismith said he did not believe local restrictions will work to contain the variant, adding, “When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn’t really make any difference.
“So I don’t think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work.”
This comes as the Environment Minister George Eustice said on Wednesday that “we can’t rule anything out” and suggested that there could be “localised restrictions.”