COVID-19: Minister ‘confident’ govt right to lift most lockdown rules in England – as public warned virus ‘hasn’t gone away’
A senior minister has told Sky News he is “confident” the government is doing the right thing by lifting almost all coronavirus restrictions in England, as a top World Health Organization (WHO) envoy warned: “This virus hasn’t gone away.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said now is “as good a time as any” to lift most COVID-19 rules, although he urged people to remain “careful” and “vigilant”.
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Critics of the government’s approach have accused ministers of being reckless in going ahead with today’s easing, in the face of daily case numbers hitting their highest level in six months and the continuing spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
But with two-thirds of adults fully vaccinated, proponents of proceeding with step four of the government’s roadmap argue the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout means hospitalisations and deaths will be lower than in previous waves.
Mr Zahawi said it was an “important step forward”, adding: “There is no perfect time to take this step, this is as good a time as any as [Professor] Chris Whitty has said, with the summer holidays and schools being out, which will hopefully bear down on the R number, the transition rate.
“So, I’m confident that we are doing the right thing.
“I think the vaccination programme has allowed us to take this step, to take it cautiously with this wall of protection among adults in the United Kingdom.”
But Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 for the WHO, told Sky News there was “no sense of freedom in my heart” on a day that had in some quarters been dubbed “Freedom Day”.
“Unfortunately there’s a sense that this virus is very much here and is giving us lots of surprises and lots of anxieties,” he continued.
“Therefore as a society we go into the next period with our eyes wide open, knowing pretty well what to expect. That is more disease, more long COVID and more challenges as to how we behave.
“My recommendation is simply: wear your mask. Don’t get too close to people. Watch out in confined spaces.
“And remember, this virus hasn’t gone away.”
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