(Bloomberg) — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s “anxious” about the spread of a Covid-19 variant from India and ruled no measures out as fresh statistics showed cases more than doubled in the past week.
“We are anxious about it, it has been spreading,” Johnson said in a pooled broadcast interview Thursday, referring to the B1617.2 variant first detected in India. “There’s a range of things we could do, we’re ruling nothing out.”
Cases of the new strain of Covid-19 have risen to 1,313 from 520 over the past week, Public Health England said in a statement after the premier made his remarks. Authorities are carrying out surge testing in places such as Bolton, in northwest England, where cases have been detected, as well as in parts of London, PHE said.
Johnson’s comments raise the prospect the government may be forced to slow down its roadmap to open the economy from the country’s third coronavirus lockdown. That could put him into conflict with members of his own Conservative Party, who have already been agitating for a faster reopening amid a vaccination program that’s one of the most advanced in the world.
“Why on earth would we lock down when the vaccines continue to break the link between cases and hospitalizations and deaths?” Steve Baker, chairman of the party’s Covid Recovery Group, said in a statement. “We were told the roadmap was cautious — in spite of the overwhelmingly promising data on the benefits of the NHS vaccine rollout — precisely so it would be irreversible.”
The third stage of the government’s 4-step plan to unlock the economy is due Monday, when people will be allowed to meet indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants once more. Cinemas and theaters will be allowed to reopen, and international holidays will no longer be illegal.
A final phase of reopening is planned for June 21 at the earliest, when the government hopes to be able to lift most remaining restrictions. For now, Johnson said he’s not concerned about the timetable slipping.
“We’ve already been very clear that we will be led by the data,” he said. “At the moment I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere.”
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