People in areas where community transmission of the South African coronavirus variant has been found should “think again” before leaving the house for reasons even within the rules, a minister has said.
Michelle Donelan told Sky News that residents should abide by restrictions “to the letter” given the UK is at a “perilous” stage in the pandemic.
Asked if the advice to those in eight postcodes where cases of the new variant has been found with seemingly no travel links is any different to the national measures, she admitted: “It’s not, we’re all in a lockdown.
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“But the message is ‘think again’ just before you go about activities, even for those activities that are within the rules such as essential shopping.
“Do you really need to go for that shopping or have you got enough in? Could you work from home? Could you have that conversation with your employer? It’s about reinforcing the rules that are in place…
“We’re at that final hurdle, but it’s still a very perilous stage of this virus and we’ve got these new variants spreading, so we do have to be extra vigilant and really abide by those rules to the letter of them, and also contemplate every action and activity that we do.”
The universities minister added that it was “easy to become tired” of following restrictions, but added: “We can’t. We’re at the final hurdle.”
A race is under way to try to contain the 105 cases of the South African variant found in the UK, 11 of which the government said yesterday had no links to travel.
But that is a “big underestimate” of the true number of cases and only “the tip of the iceberg of community transmission”, according to Professor Andrew Hayward, who advises the government.
Door-to-door testing has begun being rolled out in parts of London, Walsall, Broxbourne, Southport, Maidstone and Woking.
Ministers say there is no evidence the variant is any more lethal, but that it is more transmissible.
And Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England said at a Downing Street briefing on Monday that three vaccines trialled showed effectiveness against it at a higher level than the minimum standard set by the World Health Organisation.
Though she cautioned jabs may have a diminished effect on the variant and that people may need to get a booster shot every year, like with the flu.
But concerns have been raised about how the variant managed to get into the UK and begin to spread, following the revelation that government science advisers warned only mandatory hotel quarantine for all travellers to the UK would come close to preventing the import of new strains.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced only UK nationals and residents returning from 30 countries would be placed in government-provided quarantine accommodation like hotels – with no date set for when the policy will start.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, accused ministers of overseeing a “reckless policy of leaving our borders unlocked and open to further risk”.