There is “increasing confidence” that vaccines are effective against the Indian strain of coronavirus, Boris Johnson said in a boost for efforts to keep the June 21 date for the further easing of lockdown restrictions.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the latest data indicates the jabs are working against all variants of the virus.
The spread of the B1617.2 variant had cast doubt on next month’s plans to ease the remaining restrictions in England, but Mr Johnson has said there is no conclusive evidence to suggest a deviation from the road map.
In a further sign of optimism, the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday: “We’ve looked at the data again this morning and I can tell the House we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant.”
Mr Johnson thanked people in Bolton and Blackburn – Indian variant hotspots – for “coming forward in record numbers” to receive a jab.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said later that Mr Johnson had been referring to data on daily case rates as well as to studies published in the UK and elsewhere which showed “high levels of efficacy” for the vaccines against the virus.
He stressed however that ministers would want to see more information before making decisions on the next steps toward lifting lockdown.
“We have regular data that is published daily that tracks through right down to a very granular level on things like case rates,” the spokesman said.
“That is the information that the Prime Minister is seeing. Currently in that data we are not seeing any sharp increases or significant areas of concern.
“Clearly it is important to stress that we want to give more time to get more data in so we can make decisions on our approach on the next step.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a final decision on whether to move to the next stage of the road map would be taken as late as possible – on June 14, a week before the measures would take effect.
“Until then, it is just too early to say,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
😷 The @uksciencechief says Covid will be with us “forever”— Mark Harper (@Mark_J_Harper) May 19, 2021
🦠 Covid will mutate and create variants...forever
💉 Our vaccines work & can be adapted quickly to fight off new variants
🙅🏻♂️😱 Govt and everyone else cannot keep panicking every time a new variant comes along (2/2) pic.twitter.com/A1p07BtJOo
The news increased Tory pressure on Mr Johnson to commit to the June 21 date for the easing of the remaining restrictions.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory backbenchers, said “there is no justification” for delaying the end of the road map beyond June 21, adding that it “must be without domestic vaccine passports and social distancing”.
He said ministers and the public “cannot keep panicking every time a new variant comes along”.