London: The United Kingdom is considering the extension of lockdown restrictions by four weeks from the scheduled June 21 end as the new Delta variant of COVID-19, first identified in India, has spiked the number of infections over the past few weeks, according to a media report on Saturday.Also Read - Mumbai Local Train Latest News: Anguished Over Maharashtra Govt’s Decision, Passenger Associations Plan to Approach PM Modi For Travel Approval

The UK government’s discussion on the delay comes at a time when the country reported 8,125 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period, another record daily high since the end of February, and Public Health England (PHE) found that infections from the Delta variant the B1.617.2 variant of concern (VOC) first identified in India rose by nearly 30,000 in a week to hit 42,323. Also Read - Do Kids Need To Be Vaccinated To Attend School? This Is What WHO Has To Say

However, Downing Street sources told the BBC that no final decision has been made yet and this is just among several options being evaluated as the latest data is studied before UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson will make an announcement regarding the lockdown on Monday. Also Read - Consider Imposing Local Restrictions To Curb Mass Gatherings During Festive Season: Centre Writes to States, UTs

Asked about Monday’s announcement in Cornwall on the sidelines of the G7 Summit, Johnson told the BBC it was important to ensure any easing of restrictions was “irreversible”.

“What I can certainly say is we are looking at the data, continuing to do that, but what you can certainly take is the roadmap was always cautious but irreversible, and in order to have an irreversible roadmap, we’ve got to be cautious,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Again you have hospitalisations up, you’ve got cases up. There are grounds for caution. That doesn’t mean that this country hasn’t made enormous progress with vaccination. Clearly what we have is a race between the vaccines and the virus and the vaccines are going to win. So it’s just a question of the pace,” he added.

The British Medical Association (BMA), a leading public healthcare group in the UK had officials calling for a delay to the planned easing of all lockdown restrictions on June 21, popularly being dubbed Freedom Day. BMA officials said that ending curbs would see all legal limits on social contact removed. Pushing the date back by a few weeks is intended to allow the country’s vaccination programme to take greater effect, as the rollout moves through to younger age groups and the older age groups get covered with their second jabs.

“It’s not just about the number of hospitalisations, but also the risk to the health of large numbers of younger people, who can suffer long-term symptoms,” said BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul.

June 21 was set as the earliest date to end all lockdown measures as part of a roadmap laid out by Boris Johnson earlier this year. It is, however, tied to several criteria being met, including the constant vaccine rollout. Evidence shows vaccines effectively reduce hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and the assessment of risks is not fundamentally changed by new VOCs.

Of these four criteria, the one related to VOCs is the one tripping up the schedule as PHE’s latest analysis this week found that the Delta VOC was about 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha VOC identified in the UK and also reduces the effectiveness of vaccines to some extent.

Last evening, UK health officials said there is also analysis supporting a reduction in vaccine effectiveness for Delta compared to Alpha. However, the analysis continues to show that vaccine effectiveness against the Delta VOC is higher after two doses. With an estimated two-thirds of people infected with the Delta variant not having had a single dose of a Covid vaccine, officials continue to stress the importance of taking up the vaccine to ensure protection against the VOC.

“We don’t want to squander those hard-fought gains that we have made through the vaccination programme,” said UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, in reference to the lockdown plans.

The hospitality sector, including wedding venues, which are eagerly awaiting a lifting of all rules have expressed their concerns at the economic impact of a further delay.

With PTI inputs