SAGE expert calls for June 21 Freedom Day to be delayed ‘for several weeks’


SAGE advisers today called for June 21 ‘freedom day’ to be delayed ‘for several weeks’ amid rising cases of the Indian variant.

Professor Susan Michie, who sits on the SPI-M-O committee, warned Britain was perched on a ‘knife-edge’ and risking cases spiking as they did before Christmas.  

‘Either it could run away as it did before Christmas, which would be extremely serious and we’d have more restrictions, or potentially it could be contained,’ she told Sky News.

‘So the key thing at the moment is for people to do their socialising outdoors, and if people are inside, make sure windows and doors are open.’

Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the powerful NERVTAG committee, warned Britons cases could become ‘quite explosive’ in the coming weeks.

The Cambridge University microbiologist added vaccines were giving people a ‘false sense of security’ because they were slowing down rising case numbers. 

Speaking in a personal capacity on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think the problem is we are not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus.

‘I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.

Britain’s Covid cases are up by almost half in a week driven by surging infections with the Indian variant, after 3,240 were recorded yesterday. The UK registered more than 4,000 infections on Friday for the first time since the start of April.

Boris Johnson is still set to relax all remaining restrictions — including burdensome face masks and social distancing — on June 21 ‘freedom day’.

But Government sources have hinted the chance of this going ahead is now ’50 – 50′ because of rising case numbers.

Ministers are not set to make a final decision until June 14, a week before the final relaxation is set to go ahead.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised he will be led by ‘data not dates’, and said his easings roadmap will be ‘irreversible’.

Professor Susan Michie, who sits on the SPI-M-O committee, warned Britain was perched on a knife edge and running the risk of cases going the same way as at Christmas

Professor Ravi Gupta, who sits on NERVTAG, was speaking in a personal capacity when he urged ministers to slow down lockdown easings

Professor Ravi Gupta, who sits on NERVTAG, was speaking in a personal capacity when he urged ministers to slow down lockdown easings

Daily coronavirus cases have risen by nearly 40 per cent in a week to 3,240 as deaths rose by 20 per cent while more than 537,000 vaccinations were carried out in England yesterday amid fears of the spread of the Indian variant

Daily coronavirus cases have risen by nearly 40 per cent in a week to 3,240 as deaths rose by 20 per cent while more than 537,000 vaccinations were carried out in England yesterday amid fears of the spread of the Indian variant

Professor Gupta insisted: ‘If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.

‘Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.’ 

It came as France said British travellers must have a ‘compelling reason’ to visit the country as President Emmanuel Macron battles to suppress the Indian variant.

Travel from the UK will only be permitted for EU nationals, French residents or those travelling for essential reasons such as bereavement or childcare.

Those who are allowed to make the journey must take a pre-departure Covid test and quarantine for seven days on arrival.

The British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the new French rules apply to all air, car, ferry and train passengers.

France is currently listed as an ‘amber’ destination by the UK Government, which means people are being advised against travelling there – while those who do must self-isolate for 10 days and take two tests on return.

Stricter rules for visitors from the UK were first raised by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week amid concern over the Indian variant.

An explanation of the new rules on the website of the Consulate General of France in London said: ‘Given the development of the so-called Indian variant, health measures have been tightened for people travelling to France from the UK.’

It added that from this morning ‘compelling reasons will be required for foreign nationals outside the EU not resident in France to travel to France from the UK’.

The website said ‘a PCR or antigen test less than 48 hours old will be required from anyone travelling to France from the UK’ while on arrival ‘travellers are obliged to self-isolate for seven days’.

The information added that ‘due to the low incidence of coronavirus in the UK, for the moment they will not be subject to systematic checks where they are staying’.

France’s move follows Austria, which said on Tuesday it was banning UK direct flights and tourists, and Germany, which said on Friday that anyone entering from the UK would have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

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