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Local lockdowns remain a possibility in some parts of England, as “intensive surveillance” continues in areas with high coronavirus rates, a cabinet minister has said.
The environment secretary, George Eustice, told Times Radio there was a “clear road map out of lockdown” with a decision due within weeks on whether lifting of restrictions can go ahead on 21 June.
But he added: “If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas, then of course we can’t rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns. At the moment we are doing a lot of intensive surveillance in those areas, with surge testing to identify it and deal with it.”
There is heightened concern over the potential spread across the UK of a new variant of coronavirus first detected in India. On Monday, public health experts said the B.1.617.2 variant was expected to become the dominant strain in the UK within days. A Downing Street spokesperson said the spread could result in “serious disruption” to plans to further ease restrictions at the start of summer.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Vicky Head, the director of public health for Bedford, said she was “really worried” about the local increase in Covid-19 cases linked to the new variant.
The town has the second-highest rate of coronavirus in England, with 214 new cases recorded in the seven days to 13 May. Head said cases in Bedford had jumped from “three or four” a day to up to 10 times that figure over the past month.
“What we think now is that pretty much all of our cases are likely to be the variant from India,” Head said, adding that surge testing was being planned to identify those who have the virus, but are not showing symptoms, to ensure they self-isolate.
In the meantime, easing of restrictions continues across England, with mass events beginning again, including a Premier League football match between Manchester United and Fulham on Tuesday, which is expected to draw 10,000 fans to Old Trafford.
Eustice was challenged on Radio 4’s Today programme over whether the match muddies the waters about government recommendations and guidance on social distancing and other measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Many Manchester United fans are expected to travel to the match from nearby Bolton, which had the highest case rate in the country as of 11 May, with 255 cases per 100,000 residents.
The minister insisted the government was “keeping a close eye” on the situation in the town. “What we’re doing in places like Bolton … is that we are doing surge testing in those areas so that we can monitor the situation closely and see what’s happening and obviously we can’t rule out measures that we might take in the future,” Eustice said.
“But for now the answer in all those areas is to encourage people to get the vaccine because the vaccine still offers us the best route out of this pandemic.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Local lockdowns possible in England if Covid rates rise, says minister | Coronavirus