Health Sec Says It’s a ‘Long, Long, Long’ Way off from End of Lockdown

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus press conference inside 10 Downing Street on January 11, 2021 in London, England. Hancock details plans for up to 50 mass vaccination centres across the UK. (Photo by Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it is still a “long, long, long” way off before the government can lift lockdown measures.

Despite some 6.4 million Britons — almost one in ten, and almost half of the most vulnerable groups — having received their first course of vaccinations and the government appearing on track for its mid-February deadline to reach those groups, Mr Hancock said on Sunday that the number of cases of Chinese coronavirus was still too high to predict an end to lockdown.

“… there is early evidence that the lockdown is starting to bring cases down, but we’re a long, long, long way from being low enough because the case rate was incredibly high and you can see the pressure on the NHS, you can see it every day,” Mr Hancock said on Sky News.

Mr Hancock added that he was “confident in the measures that we’ve got in place now” and “what really matters is that everybody follows them”, asserting his support for the current strict lockdown measures which Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed on the country on January 4th.

When the prime minister unveiled England’s third lockdown earlier this month, he refused to give an end date, mentioning vaguely the period of mid-February — “if things go well” — and later revealing that the new legislation means that measures could be in place until March 31st –nearly three months.

Mr Johnson later added to the speculation that some form of coronavirus restrictions could go beyond the first anniversary of March 2020’s shutdown, when he said last week that it was “too early to say” if restrictions could be lifted by the Spring, with measures likely not to be lifted at once, but gradually, and as senior minister Dominic Raab predicts, with counties moving into tiered systems for the third time.

Last week, England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said it would be “insanity” to lift restrictions sooner than government scientists thought was appropriate.

However, there is mounting pressure on the prime minister to outline a strategy for taking the UK out of lockdown, notably from the COVID Recovery Group, comprised of some 70 Conservative MPs who are sceptical of the efficacy of long-term lockdowns.

The CRG has called on the government to being lifting measures at around March 8th, when the second dose of the vaccines should be taking effect in the most vulnerable.

CRG member Craig Mackinlay, who represents South Thanet, compared the government scientists’ warning about the dangers of new strains to Remainers’ Project Fear tactics during the EU membership referendum, saying that every time the country is close to answering the question of whether restrictions can be lifted, there is another “twist”.

“It seems to me we are now being held hostage to a zero Covid policy which is completely unattainable – or if you do attain it we are going to be in lockdown for an incredibly long period. That just cannot be.

“The next thing will be ‘oh dear, this new variant from Timbuktu is not responsive to the vaccine’, or ‘the vaccine doesn’t work against it’,” Mr Mackinlay told MailOnline.

He added: “There has got to be a time when you have done the elderly, you’ve done the vulnerable… but the words I seem to be hearing is that this lockdown has got no end to it, because there always seems to be a new twist and turn – a reason why it should continue.”

Last week, lockdown sceptic Sir Desmond Swayne, the Conservative MP for New Forest West, warned that the people would “rise up” and demand change unless the government devised an exit strategy.

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