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Leading microbiologist raises doubts over plans to abolish Covid-19 restrictions next month

A LEADING microbiologist has raised doubts over plans to abolish Covid-19 restrictions in England next month.

He warned today that there could be a “huge number of cases" as the Indian variant of coronavirus surges. 

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said that the date of June 21 for the end of the current lockdown could be in doubt if the Indian variant leads to an increase in cases among the elderly and more people needing hospital care.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Prof Hunter said that surge vaccination will “possibly” work, but it is “not an easy question either way.”

Noting that the Indian variant “clearly has been out-competing” the Kent variant in a number of areas around Britain, Professor Hunter said: “I think that the big question is how many people who are getting the Indian variant will end up requiring hospitalisation.

“And at the moment the hospitalisation rate doesn’t seem to be increasing yet, although if this becomes much more common, we’ll almost certainly see some increase, so I think it’s certainly a concern.

“I think step four is in doubt in June now, but we really need to see what impact it has on severe disease before we can really be certain.”

Asked why June 21 is in doubt, he said that the current spread of the virus was currently taking place largely among young people, but that this could change ahead of restrictions being lifted, adding that a rise in cases among the elderly and hospitalisations could have an impact. 

The concerns came as Glasgow overtook Moray as Scotland’s Covid-19 hotspot amid warnings that the country is suffering a “loss of control” of the pandemic in some areas.

Moray is unlikely to drop down a level under the Scottish government’s five-tier system as restrictions ease on Monday, while the situation in Glasgow is being closely monitored.

Epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani cautioned that it would be premature to lift restrictions, calling for action to prevent the situation worsening amid concerns about the spread of one of the new Indian variants north of the border.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said that small food festivals and live music and arts events could reopen next week if the Indian variant does not jeopardise the relaxation of restrictions.

PM Boris Johnson did not rule out having to extend lifting restrictions beyond the June 21 date due to the more transmissible Indian coronavirus variant.

He told a Downing Street press briefing today: “I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

“But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.”

He said second doses of coronavirus vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable across the country.

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