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Lockdown exit scheduled for 21 June not yet ‘definitively off track,’ Matt Hancock says

Government ‘will make that decision based on more data in the next week to 10 days’, health secretary says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 03 June 2021 10:29 BST
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Lockdown exit scheduled for 21 June not yet ‘definitively off track,’ Matt Hancock says.mp4

Matt Hancock has offered a gloomy analysis of the prospect of easing of all remaining Covid restrictions in England on 21 June, suggesting there isn’t anything in the data to “say we are definitively off-track”

Speaking hours after Boris Johnson admitted the data was too “ambiguous” at the moment to make a decision on the final unlocking, the health secretary said the government would set out the next step by 14 June.

Answering questions after a speech hailing the success of the UK’s vaccination rollout, Mr Hancock added it was “critical” to keep monitoring the number of people have received a second Covid jab ahead of further easing of measures.

“We are constantly vigilant as to the impact of that second dose,” he said. “The critical question is, given that the order of vaccination is according to your vulnerability to ending up in hospital and dying, that means the second doses now cover the vast majority of those who are likely to end up dying from Covid-19.

“We can see the number of cases has been rising in the last couple of weeks but we can also see that the vast majority of people who have ended up in hospital are not yet fully vaccinated. The critical link is how much that link is broken and that’s how we’ll make the decision ahead of June 21.”

Asked whether the government was considering keeping mask wearing and work from home guidance post-21 June, Mr Hancock replied: “As I say, and as the prime minister said earlier, there isn’t anything yet in the data to say that we are definitively off-track, but it is too early to make a decision about 21 June — step 4 in the roadmap.

“We will make that decision based on more data in the next week to 10 days and ahead of the 14 June as we set out.”

Speaking at No 10 earlier on Wednesday amid unease among scientists at easing restrictions while cases of the new variant first discovered in India continue to climb, the prime minister insisted there was nothing in the data “at the moment” to suggest Step 4 of the government’s roadmap should be delayed.

But he then added: “What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, against a new surge – and there I’m afraid the data is still ambiguous.”

Speaking at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, the health secretary also hailed the vaccination programme, as he praised the NHS for deserving “every plaudit that has come its way” alongside Britain’s “scientific strength”.

His remarks came as new figures on Wednesday showed that three-quarters of the adult population were estimated to have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The government’s target is to reach all adults by the end of July.

Mr Hancock also revealed the government had entered into “commercial negotiations” with AstraZeneca to secure a future “variant vaccine” that have been adapted to tackle the variant first identified in South Africa.

He said: “There is yet more to do, the work isn’t over yet - we’re still procuring all the time and planning what we need to keep this country safe, including new vaccines specifically targeted at variants of concern.

“I can tell you today that we’ve started commercial negotiations with AstraZeneca to secure a variant vaccine - future supplies of the Oxford /AstraZeneca vaccine that have been adapted to tackle the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.

“Once again, we’re leading the way and backing projects with potential, so we can keep our vaccination programme one step ahead of the virus and protect the progress that we’ve all made.”

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