Big weddings are back on from June 21, Boris Johnson to announce
The Prime Minister is poised to announce that big weddings will be allowed to take place from June 21, The Telegraph has learned, despite it emerging that scientists urged the Government to “overreact” to the Indian variant.
Boris Johnson vowed on Friday to give the public an update “by the end of the month” on the results of the review into relaxing social distancing rules, including the “one metre plus” and face mask regulations.
He gave a strong hint that the fourth and final step in his roadmap out of restrictions, which is due to scrap the cap on attendees at weddings and other large-scale events, will go ahead as planned on June 21.
“I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the roadmap,” he said, signalling his confidence that the Indian variant will not derail his blueprint.
It came after he told Tory MPs privately on Wednesday that he was “hopeful” of abolishing the “one metre plus” rule next month too.
Government sources told The Telegraph on Friday night they were confident large-scale weddings would be allowed from June 21, as long as the emerging data on the Indian variant did not take a stark turn for the worse.
They said confidence about the safety of big weddings had grown in the wake of positive results from the Government’s large-scale events pilots – which saw just 15 people test positive for Covid-19 among 58,000 attendees. There is currently a limit of 30 attendees at weddings under government rules.
A Whitehall source said: “There’s increasing confidence that vaccines are working against all variants and the data doesn’t seem to be changing too drastically in terms of case numbers and hospitalisations. As long as there are no significant changes over the next few days, there is cautious optimism.”
Next week the Government is set to give a formal update on the Indian variant, including an analysis of infection and hospitalisation numbers, as well as the emerging evidence about the effectiveness of vaccines against it.
The results of two reviews will then follow: one into the future of social distancing, the other about the viability of a Covid certification scheme.
On Friday, Mr Johnson played down the prospect of vaccine or negative test certificates being widely used, telling reporters in Plymouth: “I don’t see any prospect of certificates to go into pubs or anything else.”
Pressed on the outcome of the social distancing review, he said: “We will let people know as much as we possibly can by the end of the month about weddings, for instance.”
It marked a striking change of tone a week after Mr Johnson warned the Indian variant could “seriously disrupt” plans to lift the final Covid restrictions next month.
Latest surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) showed that 71.8 per cent of people in England now carry antibodies to coronavirus.
From Saturday, 32- and 33-year-olds will be able to book their vaccines.
On Friday it also emerged that scientists told the Government that the Indian variant may not be more transmissible, but warned it was better to “overreact” than risk a third wave.
In documents published by the Scientific Advisory Group for the Emergencies (Sage) on Friday, experts from a consortium of seven universities said the mutated virus appeared to be spreading 40 per cent more quickly than the Kent variant.
But they said that they could not “conclude with any certainty” that it was because the variant was biologically more transmissible, rather than being caused by mixing patterns in certain areas or super spreader events.
The Joint Universities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research Group (Juniper) also said the extra infections could be driven by increased “case finding activity” by PHE.
However the group, which includes modellers from the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Exeter, Lancaster, Manchester, Bristol and Warwick, concluded that: “The risk of overreacting is small compared to the potential benefit of delaying the third wave.”
Despite the doubt expressed by scientists, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, told the country at the same press conference that there was now “confidence” from modelling groups that the Indian variant was more transmissible.
A second paper published on Friday by Sage from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that the Indian variant was raising the R number to 1.64 in some areas, but cautioned that it could not be generalised to the whole of the UK.
The team warned there may be “specific risk factors” for increased transmission in some areas.
Health officials are now investigating a new so-called “triple mutant” after 49 cases were discovered in Yorkshire and the Humber region.
However, PHE said there is no evidence to suggest it is any more transmissible than other variants, or that vaccines would be less effective.
Downing Street said the variant is being monitored and stressed “we won't hesitate to put in measures that we think are necessary to try and tackle the transmission of any variants”.
Meanwhile, a school in Bedford will return to remote learning after Indian variant cases led to more than 300 pupils having to isolate.
Bedford Academy, part of the Heart Academies Trust, said the decision to close the school followed “a significant number of cases of Covid-19 in Bedford and across our wider school community”.
Around 350 pupils from the school are currently self-isolating. Remote learning will run for a week beginning on Monday May 24.
David Morris, chief executive of the Trust, said: “Despite continuing with stringent cleaning procedures, the extended use of facemasks for both students and staff, regardless of national guidance, and ongoing education regarding hygiene, we have been unable to control the rapid spread of the virus.”
The school said it took the decision to close its buildings to most pupils – excluding keyworker and vulnerable children – after discussions with the Government, PHE, and Bedford Borough Council.