What is supposed to happen on June 21?
England is currently in stage three of the prime minister’s four stage roadmap for unlocking the country.
Since May 17, two households or a maximum of six people from multiple households have been permitted to socialise indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.
Stage four, due on June 21, is due to see all legal limits on social contact lifted. In effect it is expected to mark the end of lockdown.
The prime minister is expected to announce his decision as to whether stage four will go ahead on June 14.
It has been billed as a battle between the vaccine and the virus.
Four ‘tests’ have to be met
In order for England to advance through the stages, the government has set four tests for itself.
The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of the virusAdvertisement
It is number four, the risk from new variants, that has put the June 21 date in doubt.
The number of Covid cases
The Indian variant now accounts for 75% of all new Covid cases in the UK, the government has said.
Between May 24 and 30 there were 60 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, an increase of 42.9% compared with the previous seven days.
On Monday, one further death in the UK was recorded by the same metric and 3,383 lab-confirmed cases were confirmed.
The 22,474 cases between May 24 and 30 was 26.8% higher than the previous seven days.
What action is being taken?
The gap between the first and second dose of the vaccine for the over-50′s has been brought forward to increase protection.
Surge testing and vaccinations have also been deployed in the areas worst affected by the variant.
There is no current evidence that vaccines do not work against the variant.
What do the experts say?
Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), has said that with the UK in the grip of an “early” third wave of infections, ministers should consider pushing back their target of scrapping all Covid measures on June 21 “by a few weeks”.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme there had been an “exponential growth” in the number of cases, fuelled by the more transmissible Indian variant, but that the “explosive” impact it could have was currently being masked by the high vaccination rate.
Across the UK almost three-quarters (74.8%) of the adult population has had their first Covid jab, with almost half (48.5%) having had their second.
The government hopes the vaccination programme will break the link between getting infected with Covid and having to be hospitalised.
Mark Walport, a former government chief scientific adviser, said the Indian variant was now “taking off”. He told BBC Breakfast the UK was in a “quite perilous” moment.
And Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said a clearer picture was needed of the impact of the easements brought in this month before further relaxations take place.
He said while encouraging data has emerged in recent weeks over Covid hospital admissions in Britain, any impact on admissions brought by the easing of restrictions in May would not be known until “around about June 21 or just before that”.
“I think it’s unfortunate that everyone’s got this particular date in their head, because really what we need to do is understand how things are going and adjust accordingly,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
But Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said that it was important to press ahead with the June 21 easing from a societal point of view.
He told Times Radio: “I think we need to recognise the way in which levels of fear and anxiety in the population have been amplified over the last 15 months or so.
“We’ve got to look at the collateral damage in terms of untreated cancers, untreated heart conditions, all of the other things that people suffer from.
“What we see at the moment I think is really a preview of what it means to live with Covid as an endemic infection – these waves will come, they will pass through; there will be high levels of mild infections in the community for periods of time, a handful of people may be seriously ill, even fewer may die.
“But that’s what happens with respiratory viruses, and we’ve lived with 30-odd respiratory viruses for since forever.”