England on a 'knife-edge' amid growing concerns over new Covid-19 variant

The Covid-19 situation in England is on a “knife-edge”, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned, as infections rise and hospital admissions increase.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Covid-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222, at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Wrexham, North Wales. Picture: Paul Ellis/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Covid-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222, at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Wrexham, North Wales. Picture: Paul Ellis/PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson held an unscheduled meeting on Friday evening to discuss the latest evidence about the mutant strain amid “growing concern” in No 10.

Earlier, he refused to rule out the prospect of a third national lockdown for England if infection rates continue to grow – a move he has previously been reluctant to contemplate.

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Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced fresh lockdowns once Christmas is over.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said on Friday that a post-Christmas lockdown in Scotland “remains on the table”.

She said the Cabinet will review coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday before a decision is announced to MSPs.

Ms Freeman said: “Nothing at this point can sensibly be ruled out, but we will look at what the information we have tells us, the judgments we think are the right judgments to make, and we will make that clear on Tuesday when the First Minister speaks in the Scottish Parliament.

“Every possible option remains on the table.”

Much of the the latest focus in England is on the South and East of England where the new variant is thought to be most prevalent.

On Friday, the NHS in Kent announced it was suspending non-urgent hospital procedures, saying it was treating double the number of patients it had at the peak of the first wave in April.

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Post-Christmas lockdown 'remains on the table' as health secretary tight-lipped ...

Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if the Prime Minister did not want to change the regulations, he should at least consider issuing stricter guidance.

He said the prospects of a new year lockdown in England were on a “knife-edge”.

“It is a very difficult, finely-balanced judgment. The biggest worry is what happens indoor in family gatherings and that’s where the risks do increase,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme.

“I think they can be clearer about what is and isn’t advisable because it would be an enormous tragedy if we had a spike in deaths at the end of January/February because we took our foot off the pedal this close to having a vaccine.”

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