BRITS must be "really careful" not to "squander hard-fought gains", a minister has warned in fresh hints 'freedom day' could be delayed for a month.
Nadhim Zahawi failed to directly answer a question on the possibility the final step of the roadmap, currently set to take place on June 21, will be pushed back.
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In an interview on Times Radio this morning, he stressed the importance of being "really careful".
"There has been some really hard-won battles against this virus and we don't want to squander those hard-fought gains that we have made through the vaccination programme," he said.
"The virus hasn't gone away, the virus will continue to attempt to mutate, to escape, to try and survive, and I think it's really important that we are really careful."
It comes as:
- The UK economy grew 2.3 per cent in April as lockdown restrictions eased
- Theresa May blasts ‘chaotic and incomprehensible’ holidays ban despite world-beating vaccine rollout
- Matt Hancock admitted the first lockdown was delayed – despite warnings one MILLION might die
- Rising Covid cases will only become problem if people start dying, a top Government scientist claimed
- The Indian – or Delta – strain is up to 60 per cent more infectious, experts say
And he said officials are carefully considering the data after the easing on May 17, when pubs opened indoor spaces and hugging was allowed again.
"I think it's important that we look at the data very carefully over this weekend and then share it with the nation," he said.
"We want this roadmap to be irreversible.
"The best way to make sure that happens is that we're certain that we can keep suppressing the virus and transitioning from being a pandemic to endemic status by next year, and deal with it in the way we deal with flu viruses with an annual vaccination programme.
"But let's not knee-jerk at this thing. Let's be careful. And we're learning all the time.
"I describe to my team that we're building the plane while we're flying it.
"We continuously learn about how the virus is behaving."
It was reported last night that ending lockdown could be delayed between a fortnight and a month to give businesses "certainty".
Brits will learn more about whether restrictions will ease or not on Monday, June 14.
It comes as cases of the Indian – or Delta – variant now make up 91 per cent of all UK infections.
The Government is monitoring if its spread leads to a further surge in hospitalisations and infections.
A total of 42,323 cases of the mutation have now been confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from last week, Public Health England said today.
Mr Zahawi told Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway on Good Morning Britain our biggest hope out is vaccinations – as new cases surged by 63 per cent last week.
"Vaccinations are severing the link between infection rates climbing and then hospitalisations," he said.
"Hospitalisations rose by about seven per cent, and sadly deaths rose slightly by 1.9 per cent.
"The data shared on Monday will hopefully demonstrate why we're making the decisions we're making."
Ben asked: "Are you preparing us for a delay?"
"No. I'm saying let's not squander the hard-fought gains we've made against this virus," he said.
"The Delta variant is more infections and Public Health England say it's more severe, especially against those not vaccinated.
"But of the 12,500 infected, about three-quarters have not had the vaccine, so we have to make sure we vaccinate at scale."
A source told The Times the Government fears easing restrictions too early, only to be forced into tightening up again.
"This is about giving people certainty," they said.
“The worst-case scenario is that we ease restrictions and then have to implement them again.
"This has to be a one-way ticket."
The Delta variant is feared to be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent – or Alpha – variant.
And nine UK locations are seeing cases soar, likely as a result of the mutation's prevalence, while positive tests remain high in a number of other areas.
Stirling, Manchester, Rochdale, Bolton, Kirklees, Lancashire, St Helens, Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire have seen cases rise.
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