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Matt Hancock Says Coronavirus Is “Under Control” But We Still Need Tiered Restrictions After Lockdown

Matt Hancock defended the new tiered coronavirus restrictions after criticism from his own party's MPs (PA)

4 min read

Matt Hancock claimed the second lockdown means "we've got this virus back under control," but said the impact assessment of the new tiered restrictions “clearly demonstrates this action is necessary to avoid a much worse outcome”.

The health secretary has stressed that with infection rates coming down in many parts of England, "while we can let up a little, we can't afford to let up a lot".

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference after it was revealed cases have dropped by 30% this week, he said: "This is clearly good news. It shows that the national restrictions have been successful.

"And what this means in practice is that through everyone's actions in respecting the national lockdown, and through everything that people have sacrificed, we've reduced pressures on the NHS, we've brought down the number of coronavirus cases, we've got this virus back under control.”

He added: ”The light of dawn is on the horizon, it's the moment to stand firm until the morning so we can look back and see clearly that everything we gave and everything we did, it was not for nothing but so we could save lives and build back better for everyone.”

It comes ahead of a crunch vote on the government’s controversial new tier system tomorrow, with up to 100 Tory MPs threatening to reject it.

The rebels had called for an impact assessment and an economic analysis of the measures, which Boris Johnson agreed at the weekend to publish.

But the document is unlikely to placate the Covid Recovery Group of backbenchers, as it fails to definitively say what difference the various tiers would have.

It reads: “Due to the range of factors that need to be considered, and that in many cases are difficult to estimate – including how the virus would have evolved in different scenarios – any attempt to estimate the specific economic impacts of precise changes to individual restrictions for a defined period of time would be subject to such wide uncertainty as to not be meaningful for precise policy making."

In response the former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said while he welcomed its publication he was “disappointed MPs, journalists and the public have been given so little time to digest information of this magnitude”.  

In a statement he added: “As I have said before, I and a number of colleagues are particularly keen to understand the likely impact of the restrictions on Covid and the full extent of some of the non-Covid health implications they have, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods.

“So we will read and analyse this data tonight and report back on our findings later tomorrow.”

And Mel Stride, chair of the Treasury select committee, said: “With little over 24 hours until MPs vote on the new tiered system, this rehashed document offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR published last week. 

“It’s frustrating that there is little here that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country. 

“Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.” 

Earlier Mr Johnson had defended the introduction of the tier system for England once lockdown ends on Wednesday during a visit to pharmaceutical firm Wockhardt at their facility in North Wales, where it is hoped the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 will be produced.

"We can't afford to take our foot off the throat of the beast, to take our foot off the gas, we can't afford to let it out of control again,” he said.

"The tiering system is tough, but it's designed to be tough and to keep it under control.

"I know that lots of people think that they are in the wrong tier and I understand people's frustration.

"I particularly understand the frustration of the hospitality sector that has borne so much and been through so much in the last few months, and we will do everything we can, as we have been doing, to protect and to encourage that sector throughout the weeks and months ahead.”

The Prime Minister said it was important to strike the "right balance" when deciding on coronavirus restrictions.

"Everything is a judgment, everything is a balance. Over Christmas families traditionally want to get together. That is going to happen to some extent whatever you do," he said.

"It is very important to set out the rules to give people a clear understanding of what will work and the right balance to strike."

He added: "The scientific cavalry are almost here. It is, potentially, a real, real game-changer.

"What we can't do is forsake, abandon, all the gains we have made now just when we are starting to see real progress in the science."

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