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Ministers under fire over Indian variant amid vaccine rollout confusion

·3-min read
<p>Long vaccine queues were seen in Bolton on Saturday</p> (Getty Images)

Long vaccine queues were seen in Bolton on Saturday

(Getty Images)

Ministers have come under fire over moving ahead with a major easing of restrictions on Monday as mixed messaging leads to long vaccine queues around the UK.

Thousands of people were pictured queuing for the vaccine in Bolton, after a councillor’s tweet claimed that anyone could turn up and expect a vaccine.

In the tweet which was on Twitter for more than an hour before it was deleted, the councillor said: “The team will find a reason to vaccinate you. Closes at 5pm. The 4000 vaccines must be used today.”

Misinformation around the issue has caused confusion in recent days.

More than 150 people turned up after a Facebook post announced that all over-20s would be eligible for a jabPA Wire
More than 150 people turned up after a Facebook post announced that all over-20s would be eligible for a jabPA Wire

A Merseyside vaccine centre faced a queue that stretched around the block after it was announced all over-20s would be given a jab.

The centre is at Hirshman’s Chemist in Sefton, near Formby, where there has been a rise in coronavirus cases with the Indian variant.

More than 150 people turned up after a Facebook post announced that all over-20s would be eligible for a jab at the centre after 3pm on Friday.

Elsewhere, Blackburn with Darwen Council initially said on Thursday that it would be offering vaccines to all over-18s from next week, following the increase in cases, but later said that, although additional vaccine clinics are being set up, the jab will only be offered to those eligible under current Government guidance.

It comes as England is set to ease restrictions further on Monday, even as ministers came under fire from scientists.

Health minister Edward Argar said on Saturday that the Government was acting “coolly” and “calmly” in carrying on with step three in the road map to ending lockdown restrictions.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said that easing restrictions is a “real worry”PA Wire
The British Medical Association (BMA) said that easing restrictions is a “real worry”PA Wire

However, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the move is a “real worry” while many are still awaiting vaccination.

Mr Argar was also forced to defend border restrictions, saying it is “impossible to completely hermetically seal” the nation amid criticism of the delay in adding India to the travel red list.

The Prime Minister warned on Friday the variant could cause “serious disruption” to plans to ease the lockdown and may delay the planned ending of all legal restrictions on June 21.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) concluded there is a “realistic possibility” the strain is 50% more transmissible than the one that emerged in Kent.

If the higher transmissibility is confirmed, the experts said moving to step three could “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations” that is “similar to, or larger than, previous peaks”.

People are seen queueing to get vaccinated at Essa Academy on May 15, 2021 in Bolton, EnglandGetty Images
People are seen queueing to get vaccinated at Essa Academy on May 15, 2021 in Bolton, EnglandGetty Images

Mr Argar told BBC Breakfast: “All the evidence so far suggests there is no evidence of increased severity of illness or that it evades the vaccine.

“So, at the moment, on the basis of the evidence we are doing the right thing, coolly, calmly continuing with Monday, but keeping everything under review.”

Monday’s easing will allow people to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants, and will permit physical contact between households for the first time in more than a year.

Heathrow said it has been involved in talks with the Government over potentially opening a dedicated arrivals facility for travellers from red list countries, but denied there are plans to dedicate Terminal 2 for this.

An airport spokeswoman said: “Heathrow has been in discussion with ministers regarding the possibility of a dedicated arrivals facility for passengers from red listed countries, however no decision has been reached on this matter and there are no plans for Terminal 2 to be used as a designated red-list only terminal.”

Meanwhile, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said vaccines are “almost certainly less effective” at reducing transmission of the Indian variant.

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