An eight-week interval between vaccine doses provides “much better” protection from coronavirus, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said, as he dismissed reports that the gap is due to be reduced from eight weeks to four.
Mr Zahawi also told Sky News he is “confident” that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce on Monday that COVID restrictions will be lifted on 19 July despite the surge in cases.
But he said new guidance issued by the PM will say people are “expected” to continue to wear face masks in crowded indoor settings, despite the legal requirement to do so ending from step four of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
“I think it is important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we will set out tomorrow will demonstrate that – including guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor, enclosed spaces,” Mr Zahawi said.
Earlier this week, when setting out the details of his planned unlocking for the fourth and final step of his roadmap on 19 July, the PM said from this point there will be no more legal requirement on wearing face masks in shops or on public transport.
However, Mr Zahawi’s comments on Sunday suggested more caution over lifting the policy of wearing face masks altogether.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green told Sky News the changing positions from government ministers is a “recipe for confusion” and said it could lead to “more confrontations”.
A final decision on England’s path out of restrictions is expected to be taken on Monday.
Wales has already deviated from the UK Government’s position on mask wearing, announcing that face masks will remain mandatory there in some public places until COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat.
Masks must still be worn in taxis, on trains and buses, as well as health and social care settings when coronavirus restrictions are eased, the Welsh government said.
Meanwhile, on vaccines, Mr Zahawi dismissed a story in The Sunday Times which suggested the gap between receiving the two doses of the COVID jab could be cut to four weeks.
“The real-world data, the clinical data suggests that actually the eight-week interval offers that additional fortification in terms of protection with the two doses, at much better than having the interval shortened any further,” he told Sky News.
Labour’s Ms Green said her party would support reducing the time interval between two jabs if the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended it.
“The priority, of course now, is also to make sure that people who have not been vaccinated at all get the vaccine, and it is concerning that the rate of vaccinations is slowing and that some groups are still not being able to come forward and be vaccinated,” she told Sky News.
All over 18s are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in England.
Earlier this week, the government announced that from 16 August, double jabbed individuals and all children will no longer need to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also confirmed that fully vaccinated adults and all children will no longer have to quarantine on their return from amber list countries from 19 July.