The government will not rush to conclusions about lifting lockdown in England, Kwasi Kwarteng says.
There is currently no evidence that might mean a delay to the next step of lockdown easing on 21 June in England, the business secretary has said.
Kwasi Kwarteng said the government was tracking the data “almost minute by minute” but will not rush to conclusions.
A final decision will be reached on 14 June, he said.
The Indian variant is now believed to be responsible for up to three-quarters of new Covid cases in the UK.
Cases continue to rise – something that was always expected as lockdown eased – but the government has said the crucial thing is to see how that affects the number of people in hospital.
On Thursday, the number of new Covid cases topped 3,000 for a second day in a row – 3,542 – the first time infections have reached this level since early to mid-April. A further 10 people died with coronavirus, the government figures show.
Ministers have previously said that the important question is whether the UK’s vaccine rollout is breaking the link between infections and hospitalisations – and that will affect whether the plan to lift all remaining lockdown restrictions can go ahead in England on 21 June.
“As you know we’ve been looking at data on a daily basis, almost minute by minute,” Mr Kwarteng told BBC Breakfast on Friday. “We’ve been very clear that we’ll be looking at the scientific data before we rush to any conclusions.
“And we’ve said that as far as I can see there’s nothing in the data that will delay the date but we’ve said we’re always reviewing the data and we’ll come to a final conclusion on whether to reopen on 21 June on 14 June.”
He also told Sky News it was “impossible for anyone to know what the situation will be like in a week or two weeks’ time” and: “I can’t guarantee one thing or the other.”
Cases of the Indian variant are mainly focused in hotspots, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a press conference on Thursday – with Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen still the worst affected areas.
But most parts of the country now have small numbers of cases of the variant, according to Public Health England.
Boris Johnson was also asked about the 21 June date on Thursday, after an epidemiologist said the lockdown reopening plan “hangs in the balance”.
The prime minister said England “may need to wait” for the lifting of all restrictions but that there was nothing currently in the data to suggest there would have to be a delay.
More than 38.6 million people have now received their first dose of the vaccine in the UK – and 24 million second doses have been given.
Step four of the government’s roadmap for lifting lockdown on 21 June would see all legal limits on social contact removed, nightclubs reopened, and restrictions on large events and performances lifted.