UK health minister says vaccine success will not speed up lockdown easing plan

Prime minister Johnson to set out England’s schedule for emerging from lockdown to parliament

 Matt Hancock:  said the government would be “vigilant as to the effect of all measures on the number of infections and also the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths”.   Photograph:  Tolga Akmen/PA

Matt Hancock: said the government would be “vigilant as to the effect of all measures on the number of infections and also the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths”. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/PA

 

The British government will not accelerate plans to ease lockdown, despite indications that the coronavirus vaccination programme is working, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Prime minister Boris Johnson will on Monday set out his plan for coming out of England’s lockdown, staring on March 8th with the reopening of all schools and proceeding in steps over several months, based on the impact each measure has on Covid-19.

Mr Johnson has said initial indications that vaccination was cutting transmission of the virus and reducing levels of serious illness were positive, but further details were required.

Each step in the easing of lockdown will be followed by an interval of two to three weeks, allowing scientists to measure its impact on the spread of coronavirus and pressure on the health service. Mr Hancock told the BBC there were signs that the number of people in hospital was falling much more quickly than it did in the first wave.

He said the government would be “vigilant as to the effect of all measures on the number of infections and also the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths”.

Mr Hancock confirmed that the government would bring forward to April 15th its target for delivering first jabs to all over 50s, two weeks earlier than anticipated.

All British adults will be offered a jab by the end of July.

“We now think we have the supplies to be able to do that,” he said.

According to a Financial Times analysis, everyone over the age of 50 should have received a first dose of vaccine by the end of March if supplies continue at their present level. Some insiders, however, have cautioned supplies might be “choppy” in the weeks ahead.

Mr Johnson is set to meet his cabinet on Monday to sign off the lockdown easing plan, which will be presented to parliament in the afternoon.

Details were being finalised on Sunday, according to government insiders, who stressed that initial indications that mass vaccination was working would not deter a cautious approach to ending lockdown measures that have been effective in containing coronavirus.

The reopening of schools all at once faces opposition from the big teaching unions who have called for a staggered approach.

Outdoors sports

The new rules will allow one designated visitor for those living in care homes. There will also be a relaxation of the rules for households mixing outdoors. Outdoors sports such as tennis and golf are expected to return later in March.

Further socialising outdoors will be permitted from March 29th, according to the Sunday Times newspaper, with the return of the “rule of six” from individuals in two households.

April will see non-essential shops reopen, followed by hospitality venues, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Universities may also return during this month.

In May, once the most vulnerable groups of people have been vaccinated and immunity has developed, attention will turn to reopening pubs and restaurants for indoor serving.

Some of the more cumbersome rules, such as only permitting the serving of alcohol with substantial meals and the 10pm curfew, will be abolished.

The government is hopeful that domestic tourism will be able to restart in June, as well as a return of indoor socialising. But people with knowledge of the plan said it was “too soon to be speculating that far in advance”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021