Virus ‘back under control’ but we must stay vigilant, Hancock warns


The health secretary has said that England’s lockdown means “we’ve got this virus back under control” – but warned continued vigilance is needed.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Matt Hancock acknowledged that the second national shutdown has been tough.

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But he stressed that the stricter COVID-19 measures have been working, with cases dropping by 30% in England last week.

And although the lockdown is due to end on Wednesday, he warned: “We don’t have much headroom. We can’t risk letting cases rise again, especially into Christmas and with the flu season around the corner.”

The health secretary stressed the need for a return to the tiered system seen before the second lockdown, saying that “while we can let up a little, we can’t afford to let up a lot”.

Mr Hancock said that around one in three people have no symptoms of the virus but can still infect others, adding: “That is why even as we ease these national restrictions we’ve got to keep some restrictions in place.”

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He added: “The success of our collective efforts means that from Wednesday everyone in England, even those in Tier 3, can have some greater freedoms but we don’t have much headroom.”

With positive news on vaccines raising hopes of a return to some form of normality in the months to come, the health secretary urged people to maintain their resolve in the fight against coronavirus.

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“The light of dawn is on the horizon,” Mr Hancock said.

“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.”

Speaking earlier, Boris Johnson again defended the toughened up tiers system which is due to come into effect when the lockdown ends, amid the prospect of dozen of Conservative MPs voting against the measures on Tuesday.

“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,” the prime minister said.

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“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.”

The government has published its impact assessment of the tiered approach in a bid to win round potential rebel MPs.

It states that while the system will have a “significant” impact on the economy, allowing COVID-19 to run unchecked would be “much worse” for public health.

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Mr Johnson has said that mass testing and the rollout of any approved coronavirus vaccines will offer areas a way out of the harshest measures.

The PM said rolling out widespread testing for the virus “in ever greater numbers” would – along with vaccines – allow the UK to “push the virus down and to open up the economy to allow areas to come down in the tiers that they are in, steadily making progress that way”.

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The government has promised that the rapid COVID-19 testing that was seen in Liverpool – which gave results in around 20 minutes without requiring a laboratory – will be replicated in all Tier 3 areas once lockdown ends.

Mr Hancock told the news conference that there would be extra funding for councils to carry out testing “up to a figure of £14 per test done”.

“That’s quite significant extra funding that’s available across the UK for the councils that want to make this work on the model of Liverpool,” Mr Hancock said.

The health secretary urged anyone offered a coronavirus test to take it, telling them “you might just save a life”.

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