Freedom day could be delayed by a fortnight after Chris Whitty delivered a ‘downbeat’ assessment to ministers, it was claimed today.
The June 21 milestone could be pushed back to allow all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and give time for the jabs to take effect. The Cabinet are split on the issue with some urging Boris Johnson to exercise caution while others say the focus must now shift to the economic recovery.
In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government ‘don’t rule anything out’ in terms of changing the timetable. But he also insisted that the data on vaccines were ‘encouraging’ and a final decision will not be taken until next Monday.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – one of the main ‘doves’ in government – announced that surge testing and vaccines are being extended to Greater Manchester and Lancashire in response to Indian variant cases. Medical and science chiefs Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance reportedly gave a ‘fairly grim’ update on the situation to ministers, underlining that jabs can never provide 100 per cent protection and variants are significantly more transmissible.
Whitehall sources said contingency plans are being drawn up for a possible ‘short’ delay to give scientists more time to consider data and allow the NHS to carry out more vaccinations. One cabinet source told The Times they expected to see a delay of ‘between two weeks and a month’.