Did Boris Johnson drop a major hint that 21 June is about to be delayed?

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a visit to the Scottish Power Carland Cross Windfarm in Newquay, Cornwall on June 9, 2021, where he viewed new construction on a solar farm. (Photo by Jon Super / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson struck a cautious tone when asked about the 21 June unlocking target date on Wednesday. (AFP via Getty Images)

“Nothing in the data.”

In recent weeks, these are four words Boris Johnson has repeatedly used to create positive spin when asked if the end of England's coronavirus lockdown could be put back from 21 June.

“I am still seeing nothing in the data that leads me to think that we’re going to have to deviate from the road map,” has been a typical response.

Johnson, or his official Downing Street spokespeople, have repeated this message on at least five occasions in the 23 days since restrictions were eased in step three of the road map on 17 May.

We have heard the “nothing in the data” mantra, or words to that effect, on 5 June, 2 June, 1 June, 27 May and 21 May.

But for the first time on Wednesday, those four words were noticeably absent when the prime minister was asked about “freedom day” during a visit to Cornwall.

Could the words Johnson didn't use be a possible signal he won’t be ending the lockdown as planned on 21 June?

Instead, Johnson appeared to be striking a deliberately cautious tone ahead of his announcement on Monday. Here's what he said:

"Well, the reason we’ve been doing the steps on the road map with five-week intervals is really to give us time to look at all the data as it comes in, and to assess the state of the pandemic before we go forward to the next step.

“So on Monday that four-week period will be up and we’ll have a look at where we are. I think what everybody can see very clearly is that cases are going up and in some places hospitalisations are going up.

“And I think what we need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout, which has been phenomenal, has built up enough protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage.

“And so that’s what we’ll be looking at. And there are arguments being made one way or the other.

“But that will be driven by the data. We’ll be looking at that. And we’ll be, as I say, we’ll be sending it out on Monday.”

Watch: Boris Johnson says on 2 June nothing in data to delay lockdown lift

There have been reports ministers are considering a two-week delay to the end of lockdown, with chancellor Rishi Sunak also said to be willing to accept a four-week delay.

Johnson’s update came after Prof Neil Ferguson, the top scientist whose modelling convinced the PM to impose the first national lockdown in March last year, said new data suggest the UK is facing a “substantial third wave” of COVID-19 infections.

Asked if delaying the end of lockdown from 21 June would make a difference, Prof Ferguson also said: “Yes, because it allows more people to get second [vaccine] doses.”

Read more:

UK facing ‘substantial third COVID wave’, Professor Neil Ferguson says

Boris Johnson's government surprised EU 'rigidly' sticking to Brexit rules

Some 7,540 new infections were recorded on Wednesday, the highest number since 26 February.

Meanwhile, one in 10 UK local council areas – 38 out of 380 – are currently recording COVID rates above 100 cases per 100,000 people. This is the highest number of areas above this threshold since 23 March.

However, there has been positive early evidence about the effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant first identified in India, which is now the dominant strain of the virus in the UK.

Of the 12,383 people infected with it as of 3 June, only three fully vaccinated people had been admitted to hospital.

Watch: Wednesday's vaccine in numbers

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