The 21 June target for scrapping England’s remaining coronavirus restrictions appears increasingly under threat, as a senior government adviser said the country was in the early stages of a third wave.
Prof Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 there had been “exponential growth” in new cases, with the variant first detected in India accounting for three-quarters.
Asked if the third wave had begun, Gupta replied: “Yes.”
He added: “Of course, the numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive – so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave.
“It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.”
Speaking later on the same programme, the environment secretary, George Eustice, said the government “couldn’t rule anything out” when asked about whether reopening would go ahead on 21 June.
“The rates are going up again slightly but from a low base and probably to be expected, given there are a significant number of younger people who are now out and mixing but haven’t had the vaccine – I suppose that is to be expected,” Eustice said.
“But the right thing to do in a couple of weeks’ time is to assess that data before deciding what we can do.”