Boris Johnson Delays Social Distancing Review Over India Covid Variant Spike

The PM had pledged the public would "hear more" about scrapping social distancing by the end of May.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference at Downing Street
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference at Downing Street
MATT DUNHAM via Getty Images

A review of social distancing rules is set to be delayed as the UK grapples with a spike in cases of the Indian Covid variant.

It means that Boris Johnson will break his promise that the public would “hear more” about the end of social distancing curbs by the end of May.

All social distancing is due to end on June 21 at the earliest according to the lockdown roadmap, but there are now fears that date could be pushed back.

It would mean nightclubs reopen and restrictions on large events such as festivals are lifted, as well as restrictions on the number of people at weddings.

A study by Public Health England has shown the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are “highly effective” against the new strain.

Separate government data, published on Saturday, revealed that the variant is more transmissible than the Kent strain discovered last year, however. It also said that there is no data yet on how effective vaccines are at preventing serious disease.

Asked why the social distancing review was delayed, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “I think it is reasonable for a new variant such as this and the need to gather as much data as possible to inform our decisions.

“It is right to take the time to get that info before making those final decisions.”

The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency had said on Sunday that the possibility of all coronavirus restrictions being lifted next month is “looking good”.

Jenny Harries told the BBC: “It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals, so we should not stop doing what we’re doing, particularly in areas where we have that variant of concern, the B1617.2, in the north-west and around London.

“It’s really important that people continue to do hands, face, space and work from home, have their jabs and go for tests as well.

“The cases of the B1617.2 variant are rising, they have risen very steeply and much of the media have reported a 160% rise in cases over the week period but they seem to be slightly levelling at the moment.

“It’s still very early days.”

The prime minister’s spokesman said separate review on vaccine passports may also be delayed.

The spokesman added: “We need to get the latest data on the variant first identified in India, particularly on issues such as transmissibility and its links to hospitalisations, and that will allow us to make final decisions on issues such as certification.”

Meanwhile, France’s foreign affairs minister has said the country is considering imposing “slightly tougher” health measures for travellers from Britain due to the Indian variant.

“We worry about the Indian variant and we remain on high alert regarding that matter, in co-operation with British authorities,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.