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Health experts remain divided over the dangers posed by the new Delta variant of Covid-19 and the risks it poses to the nation as ministers consider whether or not to lift lockdown later this month.

Some argue that the new variant, first identified in India, is a significantly increased threat to the UK and have urged that delays be imposed on the total removal of social restrictions, due on 21 June.

“By the government’s own criteria, it would be foolish now to proceed on the data that we’ve got. The risk would be very great indeed,’ said Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) which advises the government. Reicher said the current assessment of the risks not being fundamentally changed by the appearance of the Delta variant was “not upheld”.

This view was backed by scientists of the Independent Sage group, who argued that data indicated the Delta variant had higher infectivity and was more likely to cause disease and hospitalisations. “That makes it very difficult to justify progressing with the last stage of lockdown,” the group said last week.

Other scientists believe such calls are premature. While urging caution, they say fears that the Delta variant poses a significant new threat – both in terms of infectivity and as a cause of serious illness – are premature. “The suggestion that the India variant is more pathogenic needs to be taken with a big dose of salt,” said Ian Jones, professor of virology, Reading University.

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A vial of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at a clinic in Thurso, Scotland.

A vial of the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Thurso, Scotland in February. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Ministers are considering giving people a different type of Covid vaccine as an autumn booster, it has emerged, after early results from “mix and match” trials appeared to show promise for an enhanced immune response.

Four different coronavirus jabs have been approved for use in the UK, with more under regulatory review. While people are currently offered two doses of the same jab, researchers have been exploring whether offering a second dose of a different Covid vaccine could generate a stronger immune response.

It is also expected that people will be offered a third, “booster” injection, potentially in the autumn, in part to protect them against variants with some resistance to existing vaccines. One possibility being looked at is that this third jab could be of a different type to people’s initial two, a government source said.

Trials worldwide are exploring the impact of max and match doses. In the UK, the Com-Cov study, launched in February, is investigating the possibility of using the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax vaccines. The Sunday Telegraph reported promising results from separate trials of more than 600 people in Spain and 300 in Germany.