A health chief has called for a more informed debate on the planned lifting of all legal limits on social contact in England on June 21 as Labour questioned if the move would proceed.
The continued spread of the Indian coronavirus variant has prompted experts to argue restrictions should remain in place until more people have received both doses of a vaccine amid reports ministers are drawing up plans for a partial end of lockdown.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Breakfast a “much better quality of debate” was needed on the implications of easing measures, according to the BBC.
Hospitals were dealing with patients with complex needs who had delayed treatment earlier in the pandemic and now required longer stays, he said.
Staff were “going full pelt” to deal with waiting lists and do not have the space for a significant increase in Covid patients, he added.
“While it’s great news that the vaccinations are working – and I think that sends us one message in terms of opening up on June 21 – what we mustn’t forget is there are still lots of people who need to be vaccinated, and we know this variant that originated in India is much more transmissible,” Mr Hopson said.
“So there is going to be a really difficult decision about how much we open up how quickly, and that’s why we’re calling really clearly this morning – let’s have the best quality of debate about what the trade-offs here are and let’s try, if I may be so bold, to have a rather better quality of evidence-based debate about how quickly we should ease the lockdown measures than perhaps we’ve had in previous phases.”
He also suggested the Government needs to consider the increased burden on hospitals in UK holiday hotspots in coming months, saying staff at trusts in such areas were “really worried” ahead of summer.
Writing in The Observer, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said “weak, slow decisions” by the Government on border policy had allowed the Indian variant to spread.
He added that the “single biggest threat” to England’s full reopening was “the Government’s incompetence”.
It comes as new figures showed more than half of people in their 30s in England have received a coronavirus vaccination in a period of little over two weeks.
NHS England said that since it began opening up the vaccine rollout to this age group on May 13, some 53% of those aged 30 to 39 have been given at least one dose.
People aged 30 to 31 were the most recent group to be invited for their jab – from Wednesday – with more than five million appointments made through the national booking service within 72 hours.
Current data suggests that although hospital admissions are rising in some parts of the country affected by the Indian variant, overall admissions remain broadly flat.
Meanwhile, the reproduction number – the R value – for England is 1 to 1.1, up from 0.9 and 1.1 the previous week, suggesting the epidemic is growing.
A scientific adviser has warned confusion over the Government’s handling of Covid restrictions was undermining efforts to control the virus.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist on the Sage sub-committee advising ministers on behavioural science, said the Government was in a “pickle” because it appeared to have abandoned the “data not dates” principle.
Meanwhile, British intelligence operatives reportedly now believe it is “feasible” the pandemic began with a leak from a research laboratory in Wuhan, China.
The Times says the development, which Beijing has angrily denied, has prompted US diplomatic sources to share their concerns “we are one wet market or bio lab away from the next spillover”.