Matt Hancock Stands By UK's Lockdown Roadmap Despite Europe's Coronavirus Third Wave
Matt Hancock has defended the government's roadmap plan
The Health Secretary has insisted the UK's vaccine programme could provide a "defence" against a major resurgence of Covid-19, but said the country should remain "cautious".
The UK's border measures and vaccination programme are proving "very effective" in protecting against a spike in new cases following fears of a third wave of infections in Europe, Matt Hancock has claimed.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned it was likely the impact of a major surge in cases on the continent would "wash up on our shores" as it had done in the early stages of the pandemic.
Speaking on Tuesday, Hancock said it was clear that a third wave appeared to have "taken hold" in several European nations and that the previous outbreaks in neighbouring countries had been a "precursor to a rising number of cases here".
But he added: "This time we have as a defence our very extensive vaccine programme. 30 million vaccines have now been done as of yesterday which is an incredible feat. But we do have to be cautious and do everything we can to protect the success of that rollout here."
Defending the government's approach to easing lockdown restrictions over the coming months, he said the vaccine programme had offered "hope on the horizon".
"We can see our way out. The roadmap guides us on that route out, following the data all the way through, checking things are going well," he said.
"But there are two concerns. One is the sheer number of cases if international travel does bring home more cases, but the other is a new variant that the vaccine cannot deal with as effectively.
"Both of those are unknowns and how they progress on the continent and elsewhere will be determined by actions that our outside of our hands."
His comments come after new coronavirus laws set to come into force next week will make it illegal to travel abroad for holidays, with people trying to flout the rules facing fines of up to £5,000.
While foreign travel is currently banned for most people, the new rules will last until 30 June to ensure there is not a rush to travel abroad when the current stay-at-home order is lifted on 29 March.Under the current roadmap, re-introducing foreign holidays will not be conisdered until 17 May at the earliest, with a government taskforce expected to report next month on how travel could be restarted safely.
Hancock added: "It is now too early to know where the global travel taskforce will come out and know what the decision will be for May 17.
"The reason for that is that we are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants.
"It is very important that we protect the progress that we have been able to make here in the UK."
Speaking on the first anniversary of lockdown measures being introduced on the UK, the Health Secretary insisted the government had "learnt" from the pandemic, but refused to admit where he believed the government had made mistakes.
"If you think about it, this last year has been the hardest year in a generation and everybody's lives have been touched, and many have lost loved ones, including my family," he told the BBC's Today programme.
"It is critical that we learn from this all the way through... finding out more and learning more about this virus has been a central part of the response."
But pressed on whether ministers had made failed to act quickly enough during the early stages of the pandemic, Hancock insisted it was not the time to be looking back on the government's response.
"We must constantly be looking at what we can learn, and what I will say is there have been areas where we have changed our approach because of what we have seen, but there are also areas, like the vaccination programme, which will be a model for how governments can make things happen and move fast and deliver for the population in the years to come," he said.
"I think that the way we have responded throughout has been constantly to look and to learn and some of the responses we have had, and some of the responses have been unbelievably impressive, and other parts we have learnt and we have actively admitted that things weren't right."
Hancock added: "I have been trying to be completely frank and honest about the fact that there have been some areas where we have learnt and I think we have strenghtened the response over time.
"There are other areas where the teams hit the ball out the park. There will be a time for everybody to reflect and be an enquiry to look over this as a whole."