There is a “significant chance” the government’s target of lifting remaining lockdown restrictions from 21 June will change, a government adviser has told Sky News.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), cast doubt on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to proceed with his timetable for easing COVID rules as planned.
He told Sky News that “things are much more up in the air” than they were earlier this month, due to the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus in the UK.
Stage four of Mr Johnson’s roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions – when the prime minister aims to remove all legal limits on social contact – is scheduled to take place from 21 June.
But Prof Finn said this was now “very much open to question” as he warned of England having to return to a full lockdown if the pace of reopening was later realised to have been too fast.
His warning came as people flocked to beaches, parks and beer gardens to enjoy the bank holiday sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far.
Police and local councils urged people to stick to current social distancing rules and to avoid large crowds as they soaked up the sun.
“In a way, I think, the dates [of the roadmap] all the way through were created just to give everyone some kind of sense of structure,” Prof Finn said.
“But they were always qualified as being based on what actually happened and that they could change. I think there’s a significant chance that it could change.
“We’re better off being cautious at this point and being able to progressively unlock ourselves than to overdo it and then end up having to lockdown fully all over again.”
Prof Finn, of the University of Bristol, added that the country was “well advanced” with the vaccination programme, but that the public should be “really concerned” about not adapting to the impact of the Indian variant.
Meanwhile, another government adviser warned the country was on a “knife-edge” over the 21 June date for a full reopening.
Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London who sits on government advisory group Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), told Sky News: “We’re on a knife-edge. We could go either way with this new variant.
“Either it could run away as it did before Christmas, which would be extremely serious and we’d have to have more restrictions, or potentially it could be contained.
“So the key thing at the moment is for people to do their socialising outdoors, and if people are inside, make sure windows and doors are open.”
On Monday, the UK recorded one new COVID death and 3,383 new cases.
The single death was confirmed in Scotland – meaning England has recorded zero daily deaths for just the fifth time since the government started collecting the figures in March 2020.
Monday’s one death was less than the six confirmed on Sunday and the three a week ago – while the number of positive cases was up from 3,240 and 2,439 respectively.
Another 120,243 people had a first vaccine dose on Sunday, taking the total to 39,379,411, while 204,282 second jabs were administered, bringing the total to 25,537,133.
Tomorrow’s figures could be boosted by the walk-in centre at Twickenham Stadium after it defied government advice by offering some of its 15,000 available doses to all over-18s on Bank Holiday Monday.
Elsewhere, after weeks of being stuck indoors due to COVID-19 restrictions and recent heavy downpours, millions of Britons took advantage of the weekend sunshine.
Many people who had summer holidays cancelled or couldn’t book because of travel restrictions, opted to use this weekend for a staycation.
Natalie Armstrong and her family travelled from Birmingham to Blackpool on Friday.
She said: “(The lockdown) been awful for everyone – the kids have been stuck in the house with the same routines, so it’s really nice to finally get away with all the family this weekend.
“We’re making sure we’re following all the rules, hand sanitising, wearing our face masks, but it’s just nice to finally do something a bit normal.”
Jamie Pye, who was also in Blackpool, said: “It’s amazing to be back and do things.
“For so long we haven’t been able to see friends and family. I forgot what it was like to be in a pub, go to a football match – it’s like a new world again.”