Matt Hancock says he is not aiming for a ‘zero-Covid’ Britain

‘We’re going to have a great summer,' predicts ‘optimistic’ health secretary

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 07 January 2021 08:02
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Around 1 in 50 people in England have Covid, Whitty says

The government is not aiming for a “zero-Covid” Britain, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Mr Hancock said that eradication of the disease was “impossible” and the goal instead should be to reduce it to “manageable” proportions.

His comments, in an interview with The Spectator, came after chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned that even after a successful vaccination campaign, there could be a need for social restrictions to prevent another wave of the virus next winter.

Despite a rising UK death toll which topped 1,000 on Wednesday, Mr Hancock insisted he was “optimistic” about the course of the pandemic once millions of people get their jabs.

“We’ve got the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter,” he said.

“Of course, we’ve got a difficult time between now and then but the vaccine is going to get us out of it. We are going to have a great summer.”

But he said that the public should not expect the threat of coronavirus to be eliminated forever.

“It is impossible for any country to deliver a zero-Covid strategy,” he said. “No country in the world has delivered that, including the ones that have aimed at it.

“Covid is going to be here, but it is going to be a manageable risk.”

Lifting lockdown restrictions will be dependent not on protecting the entire population from Covid-19 through vaccinations, but on ensuring that those most at risk from severe ill-health or death are inoculated against the disease, he said.

When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, “that is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions”, said Mr Hancock.

“The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.”

Boris Johnson has set a target of vaccinating 13 million people who are over 70, ‘clinically extremely vulnerable' or care workers by mid-February, in a campaign which advisers have suggested will cut hospitalisations by 99 per cent.

Even though a majority of Britons will still have no immunity at that point, Mr Hancock said it would nonetheless be time to “cry freedom”.

It was “wonderful” that a quarter of over-80s have already had their first dose, he said, because it meant that - in two or three weeks time, when their protection begins - the number of potential deaths should be reduced by one-eighth at a stroke.

“About half of the deaths occur in people aged over 80,” he said. “But a quarter of the population aged over 80 have already had their first dose. That’s a wonderful statistic, because that means that a quarter of the people who are most likely to die have already been vaccinated.’

“That is the route out — to see the breaking of the link between cases and the hospitalisations and deaths that have, until now, followed with ruthless inevitability.”

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