A TIERED system and coronavirus vaccine will rule out the need for another national lockdown, the Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock told MPs today that he doesn’t expect the need for the country to go back into a total shutdown after lockdown ends next week.
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He also said a roll-out of a Covid vaccine would signal that life could go back to “normal” by Easter, which falls on April 4 next year.
Appearing before a joint session of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee today, Mr Hancock was asked whether he expects the country to go into another lockdown between now and spring.
He said: “No, I very much hope not to, by having a tiered system which is calibrated to be able to bring the virus under control, where that is necessary.”
But he suggested that some habits encouraged during the pandemic, such as regular hand-washing, would continue.
Mr Hancock told MPs that the “damaging social distancing interventions” could be lifted after Easter.
“After Easter, we think we will be getting back to normal,” he said.
“Now, there are some things that are ‘no regrets’, right? Washing your hands more and some parts of social distancing are no-regrets things that, I think, will become commonplace.
“But those damaging social distancing interventions – I should hope that we can lift those after Easter if these two vaccines are approved by the regulator.”
Mr Hancock also told MPs that the Tier 3 restrictions imposed before the second national lockdown in England were not strong enough.
The Prime Minister has since unveiled beefed-up tiered restrictions which are due to come into place next month.
“The trigger that persuaded me that we needed to go into national lockdown, having been essentially the architect of the tiered system and a big supporter of it, was that we saw case rates going up suddenly and quite sharply in almost every part of England,” Mr Hancock said.
“Therefore, even in the low prevalence areas, you could see that they were going to get to high prevalence if we didn’t act.”
We need a slightly tougher third tier so we can have confidence that we can bring cases down under the tiered system
Asked why he opted against a circuit-break style lockdown in favour of a month-long clampdown, the Health Secretary said: “A circuit-breaker is just a two-week lockdown, here we went second time round for a four-week lockdown.
“But then critically, (we are) returning to a tiered system which is better-calibrated having learned the impact of the tiered system in September and October where the third tier wasn’t strong enough to get the R below one, and therefore cases falling.
“Therefore, we need a slightly tougher third tier so we can have confidence that we can bring cases down under the tiered system.”
It’s understood the tougher tier system could last until the end of March – apart from any Christmas relaxation.
Boris Johnson will thrash out plans for the festive season with leaders of the devolved nations during a Cobra meeting later this afternoon.
He wants to agree on a four-nation approach to relaxing coronavirus restrictions but has acknowledged the risks involved, saying it is the “season to be jolly careful”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there could be a “slight and careful” easing of the rules for a few days while Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has suggested tough measures to control the virus before Christmas could allow “more headroom for the festive season”.
On Thursday, people in England will find out which tier they are being placed in once the lockdown ends.
More regions than before the lockdown are expected to face Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions, banning simple acts such as popping to the pub for a pint of beer or a glass of wine.
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In Tier 2, alcohol can only be consumed with a “substantial meal” while in Tier 3 pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway or delivery services.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said he expected a lot of areas of England to emerge from lockdown into the highest tier as it was the best way of reducing the R value – the reproduction rate of the virus – to below one.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It may be initially we might see slightly more severe tiers but then when we start to see the effect of the lockdown, one to two weeks after the lockdown finishes on December 2, we might see some regions stepwise dropping down the tiers.”