Boris Johnson is gathering his Cabinet for crunch talks today amid grim claims there is a ‘close to nil’ chance of the June 21 lockdown easing going ahead as hoped.
The PM and his senior ministers have been meeting with anxiety over the fast-spreading Indian variant of coronavirus running high. Ministers are preparing emergency plans that could see local restrictions used to combat hotspots while the rest of the country relaxes, or even the next stage of the roadmap delayed.
In an echo of the tiers system brought in last summer, people in the worst-hit areas could be told to stay at home and restaurants and shops forced to close – with stricken businesses handed more grants to keep them afloat. There are also growing doubts about whether lockdown can be lifted across England on June 21. Just a week ago Mr Johnson was holding out the prospect of a broad lifting of legal constraints and social distancing, but it now appears that a review of the rules is unlikely to report this month.
The fears come as ministers scramble for ways of controlling outbreaks, with more than 2,300 cases of the Indian Covid variant now identified in England. Figures have quadrupled in just 10 days and now account for at least one in five infections. Labour and local leaders have been demanding vaccines are rushed through for younger people in areas where the strain is taking hold – something that has so far been rejected.
One government source told ITV News that some of the loosening that took effect this week – including ‘Rule of Six’ socialising indoors and in bars and restaurants – might have to be rolled back.
‘It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we’ve set out for 21 June is likely to happen,’ they said.