The UK Is A “Long, Long Way” From Lifting Tough Coronavirus Restrictions, Matt Hancock Says
Matt Hancock has said the UK is a "long, long way" for exiting lockdown
Those hoping for lockdown measures to be eased soon have had their hopes dashed this morning after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was still a "long, long way" from being able to lift the toughest measures.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Hancock said there was "early evidence" the lockdown measures were beginning to bring cases down but that the number of new infections was still "incredibly high" and that the NHS still facing major pressures.
In other coronavirus developments:
- Hancock says almost three quarters of over-80s have had their first vaccine dose
- Labour has called for more transparency over the government’s vaccination strategy of delaying the delivery of a second dose
- Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has a warning that those who have received a vaccine could still pass the virus on to others
- The government is not ruling out tougher measures at the border following the discovery of new variants of the virus.
A glimmer of hope offered by the cabinet minister this morning was that almost three quarters of the over-80s in England have had their first dose of the jab, while around three-quarters of care home residents have also received their vaccine.
Hancock said: "Similar number of care homes, around three quarters and in fact we've vaccinated more people in just the last three days than France has in the entire history of this disease."
Despite the progress, there are further questions brewing over the government's strategy of delaying the delivery of the second dose to 12 weeks, with Dr Rosie Shire from the Doctors' Association saying the plans amounted to a "unregulated unlicensed trial".
"What really concerns us is we don't know what happens if you don't give that second dose of vaccination after three weeks," she said.
"The fact is that people are being vaccinated now and being put into what is effectively an unregulated unlicensed trial, whereby they're receiving this vaccination on the understanding that they don't know what is going on."
And Labour's Lisa Nandy called for more transparency over the strategy, saying she had a "lot of sympathy" for scientists who were trying to keep up with the "conflicting" evidence.
"We've always said it has to be guided by the science, it would be helpful if the government could come forward and be level with the public about the basis on which that decision is made...
She added: "But I guess the overwhelming message to the public would be don't panic, the scientists are assessing the evidence, we have regular meetings with Sage, if you get a call for the vaccine, come forward, have the vaccine and I'm sure that there will be an assessment of that evidence and hopefully the government will be much more transparent about the basis on which they're making those decisions."
But a host of vaccine experts have given their backing to the government strategy - which it is hoped will allow for a much quicker rollout - including Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who said it would "save many, many lives".
"We carefully examined the data from the Pfizer study and concluded that there was no real evidence that a second dose gave you substantially longer and better protection," he said.
"We do believe you should have a second dose but we do believe that that can be delayed."
However, ministers have remained tight-lipped over what threshold of the population will need to receive the vaccine before life can begin to return to normal.
That is mainly due to concerns that even those who have been vaccinated could still carry the disease, even if it does not cause as severe an illness.
And Mr Hancock added those who have already received the jab will need to continue following the social distancing rules until more is understood about how the transmission rates are impacted by the vaccine.
He added: "We've been learning about the virus all along haven't we and one of the critical questions for instance right now is, after you've been vaccinated how much impact does that have on how much you might transmit the virus, as well as the impact on you in terms of serious disease and that's one of the key questions that will impact on how quickly we can lift measures."
Questioned about a timeline, he told Times Radio: "We need to see the impact on the vaccine and we don't yet have those data. We are monitoring very closely and we should have a read out soon."
The discussion comes after England's deputy chief medical officer warned in the Sunday Telegraph that people who receive a Covid-19 vaccine could still pass the virus on to others and should continue following lockdown rules.
“Even after you have had both doses of the vaccine you may still give Covid-19 to someone else and the chains of transmission will then continue,” Professor Jonathan Van-Tam wrote.
Meanwhile, the government is not ruling out tighter measures at the border following numerous examples of dangerous new variants of the virus popping up in other countries.
All travellers arriving in the UK are now required to present a negative Covid test and undertake a mandatory self-isolation following changes to the rules earlier this month.
But refusing to rule out even further measures, Mr Hancock said the government "can't risk the progress we have made".
New variants have already been detected in South Africa, Brazil and the UK, but the Health Secretary said he is more concerned about variants which have "not yet been spotted".
He added: "There's probably those elsewhere that simply haven't been picked up because the country doesn't have the genomic sequencing service."
Expect the plans to come under further pressure this week in the Commons as Labour press for ministers to take quicker action.
Speaking to Sky News, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said he hoped more "effective" testing would be introduced at the border and that his party would support the use of hotels being used to quarantine new arrivals to boost compliance of self-isolation measures.