Matt Hancock has said the Indian variant, otherwise known as Delta, is 40% more transmissible than the Kent strain.
The health secretary stressed that 21 June is only “pencilled in” as the next step out of lockdown and the Indian variant is making government decisions about whether to ease restrictions in England “more difficult”.
‘Get a second jab’
Speaking to Sky News, Hancock said: “That means that it is more difficult to manage this virus with the new Delta variant.
“But crucially, after two doses of vaccine we are confident that you get the same protection that you did with the old variant.
“So the good news is that the vaccine still works just as effectively.
“Everybody must go and get their second jab though because the first isn’t as effective on its own.
“So ultimately it does make the calculation more difficult for June 21 but it doesn’t change our strategy, which is we all need to go and get vaccinated and that way we will break this link between the number of cases to the number of hospitalisations.”
Under 30s to recieve Covid jab
It comes as those aged under 30 will be invited to book their Covid vaccine jabs from 7 June.
Hancock added: “The majority of people going into hospital right now are unvaccinated.
“This week we will be opening up vaccines to the under-30s and so we are getting a step closer to the point when we have been able to offer the vaccine to all adults in this country.
“Then, once we have got everybody having had their second dose, then you will get this protection that we are seeing at the moment among older people, you’ll get that protection throughout the whole adult population.”
Pushing back so-called ‘freedom day’ on 21 June by a fortnight could allow for more adults to be fully vaccinated as Delta cases rise in Berkshire.
The strain, found in India, has been seen as a central factor and plays a large part in the decision making process over whether the Prime Minister allows the country to leave the fourth stage of the roadmap out of lockdown.
Asked if the wearing of face coverings and work from home measures could continue in the long-term, the Health Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Yes, I wouldn’t rule that out.
“The way we are looking at this is Step 4 involves the removing of the remaining social restrictions like the rule of six and some of the business closures which are still there.
“And separately we have a piece of work on what the social distancing rules should be after that, whether we should have certification …”
Mr Hancock said he expected “around three-fifths” of all adults to have been fully-vaccinated by June 21, with 52% currently double-jabbed.
Additional reporting by PA.