Johnson refuses account by ex-adviser Cummings, maintaining that his cabinet is determined to ‘protect life’.
The United Kingdom, which has recorded Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll, has announced no new daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time since March last year.
The milestone reached on Tuesday spurred hope that the impact of the pandemic was easing, but concerns simmered over a rise in cases linked to the Delta variant first identified in India.
With 127,782 deaths, the UK has the world’s fifth-worst toll.
The last time the UK recorded no coronavirus deaths was in March 2020, before the country entered its first lockdown.
However, Tuesday’s figure may yet be revised because the number of deaths reported on any given day has typically occurred earlier, with the total toll by date determined later.
It also came after a national holiday on Monday – a factor that has in the past skewed the data. Figures are often lower at weekends and holidays because of a lag in reporting.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock nevertheless welcomed the announcement as “undoubtedly good news”, saying the UK’s vaccine rollout, which began in December, was “clearly working”.
About three-quarters of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to date.
But Hancock also sounded a note of caution.
“We know we haven’t beaten this virus just yet,” Hancock tweeted, as he urged people to follow public health guidance and accept offered vaccine appointments.
But despite this undoubtedly good news we know we haven’t beaten this virus yet, and with cases continuing to rise please remember hands, face, space and let in fresh air when indoors, and of course, make sure when you can you get both jabs.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) June 1, 2021
Delta variant concerns
Despite the success of the mass immunisation programme, experts have warned the UK could yet face a third wave of infections driven by the Delta variant.
The variant – formally known as B.1.617.2 – is now believed to account for up to 75 percent of all new cases emerging nationwide.
On Tuesday, health authorities recorded more than 3,000 coronavirus cases for the seventh straight day.
New infections have cast doubt over British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to completely lift lockdown restrictions in England on June 21.
Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the UK remained vulnerable due to the number of people who have “neither had this virus … nor yet been immunised”.
He warned that ending lockdown measures entirely “may be a bad decision”.
“The idea that somehow the job is done is wrong,” Finn told the BBC.
A second coronavirus wave plunged the UK into another strict lockdown in January as Alpha, the variant first identified in the southern English county of Kent, took hold.
The government has steadily eased restrictions and reopened the economy in recent months as part of Johnson’s so-called roadmap for exiting restrictions.
A government spokesman on Tuesday said officials would “continue to assess and monitor the data daily”, adding that the plan for removing lockdown measures was “based on data, not dates”.
Last week, Johnson said the current data did not suggest that England’s path out of lockdown would have to be delayed.
The other constituent nations of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have set their own timetables for ending lockdown restrictions.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has paused easing physical distancing measures for millions of people, saying she was acting with caution “while more people get fully vaccinated”.