New evidence gives a “high degree of confidence” that coronavirus vaccines work against the Indian variant, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said but did not rule out a return to local lockdowns to stem resurgences.
Hancock said on Sunday that it is “appropriate” to push on with the major easing of lockdown in England on Monday despite warnings from scientists and medics.
But he warned the highly transmissible variant could “spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups” as he urged people to come forward for jabs when eligible.
Hancock was also forced to defend the government against criticism it acted too late in imposing heightened border restrictions for travel from India.
The minister said there are now more than 1,300 cases of the so-called Indian variant in total and it is becoming “the dominant strain” in areas including Bolton and Blackburn in north-western England.
But offering good news to plans to ease restrictions without unleashing a fresh wave of infections and deaths, Hancock said there is “new very early data” from Oxford University giving confidence that existing vaccines work against the variant.
“That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
“We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.”
Hancock said the government will decide on June 14 whether all legal restrictions can be ended in the final step of the road map out of lockdown on June 21.
He did not rule out the possibility that Monday’s easing may have to be reversed if the strain turns out to be very highly transmissible, but said the hope is the “cautious and irreversible approach” can continue.