Matt Hancock says coronavirus is back ‘under control’ thanks to second lockdown
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England has coronavirus "back under control," Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock acknowledged that the new restrictions have been tough – but stressed that the stricter measures have been working.
Mr Hancock insisted that "hope is on the horizon" as he repeated Government's promise to roll out mass testing in tier 3 areas.
But Mr Hancock 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."
Earlier, Boris Johnson said that mass testing and the rollout of any approved coronavirus vaccines will offer areas a way out of the harshest measures.
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The prime minister 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".
England will re-enter the tier system in the coming days, with those in tiers two and three facing significant restrictions on their daily lives.
Under England’s new restrictions, only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest Tier 1 controls, while large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3.
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A further 208 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, while there were another 12,155 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
Mr Hancock urged anyone offered a test to take it, telling them “you might just save a life”.
He told the Downing Street press conference: “If you have Covid without symptoms and still infect others that is, of course, a silent danger.
“You wouldn’t know that you’re risking lives around you.
“So to everybody: if you are offered a test please take it, you might just save a life
Mr Hancock said that the advances made meant that “while we can let up a little, we can’t afford to let up a lot”.
He said that about one in three people have no symptoms at all 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.
“So while we can let up a little, we can’t afford to let up a lot.
“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.”
He also pointed to the Government’s impact assessment in needing the new tiered approach.
“It clearly demonstrates this action is necessary to avoid a much worse outcome – and we must be vigilant,” he said.
It came as it emerged Boris Johnson would be forced to rely on Labour to get coronavirus restrictions through Parliament with up to 100 Conservatives unhappy about the tiers system, a Cabinet minister has admitted.
George Eustice acknowledged there is “great frustration” on the Tory benches about the measures, which will see 99% of England facing major restrictions on hospitality and mixing with other households.
Scores of Tory MPs have spoken out against the new system in England, which the Government wants to bring into force on Wednesday when the national lockdown ends.
But despite offering them another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year – meaning the measures could lapse on February 3 – several said they still have reservations.
Labour is not expected to oppose the measures, meaning Mr Johnson should get them through Parliament, but being forced to rely on decisions being made by Sir Keir Starmer will be uncomfortable for the Prime Minister.
Environment Secretary Mr Eustice told Sky News that Chief Whip Mark Spencer would be trying to win round Tory MPs ahead of the vote.
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(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)
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“I’ve seen suggestions that there could be up to 100 or so people that have got concerns,” Mr Eustice said.
That means “it will depend on what the Labour Party choose to do” but during a “national emergency” it would not be right to “play political games”.
Conservative MP Peter Bone said he is “undecided” and will make his mind up after seeing the impact assessment: “The dilemma I have is do we do more damage by the tiered system of lockdown, or do we do less.”
Another senior Tory backbencher said his vote is “still in the balance” as he urged Mr Johnson to provide analysis of how the tier restrictions will affect businesses, saying he does not have confidence that the Government is really considering their needs.
Labour leader Sir Keir is expected to hold talks with England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, on Monday, as he decides whether to support the Government’s tier system.
The Prime Minister’s argument for stringent restrictions will be boosted by new figures suggesting coronavirus infections fell by almost a third in England during the second national lockdown.
There was a 30% drop in cases across the country over almost a fortnight this month, the latest interim findings from Imperial College London’s React study showed.
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Regionally, the research suggests infections fell by more than half in the North West and North East, and were also down in Yorkshire and the Humber. But prevalence remained high in the East Midlands and West Midlands.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said the findings suggest the tiers before the beginning of November, followed by the lockdown, had helped bring cases down.
Elsewhere, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes across Wales will be banned from serving alcohol and must close at 6pm in new restrictions which come into force from Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced.
Mr Johnson wrote to potential Tory rebels on Saturday evening, offering several olive branches to secure their support for the system.
As well as the post-Christmas vote, the Prime Minister said that at the first review of the measures on December 16 he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.
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And Mr Johnson committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier. He also said the Government is looking at ways to improve communications so the public are able to make better informed decisions.
The letter contained further commitments to provide regular updates of compliance rates, to make greater use of local public health teams to improve contact tracing, increase testing asymptomatic carriers, and improve the personalisation of advice to those most at risk.