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The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has refused to rule out the current lockdown restrictions being made even tougher.
In interviews on Sunday morning, Hancock also said he broadly backed the police decision to fine two women who drove five miles for a walk saying that “every flex [in compliance with lockdown rules] can be fatal”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Hancock was asked whether the current rules might need to be tightened. “I don’t want to speculate because the most important message is not whether the government will further strengthen the rules,” he replied. “The most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we have got.”
And in a separate interview on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Hancock said that the police were doing a “brilliant job in very difficult circumstances” and that they were right to take the lockdown regulations “very seriously”.
Derbyshire police were widely criticised when it emerged that they had fined two women £200 each for driving five miles for a walk at a reservoir. The women were also told the hot drinks they had taken could be classed as a picnic.
The force has subsequently said it is reviewing the fines. But when Hancock was asked if the original police action was right, he replied: “Absolutely I’m going to back the police.
“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that.’ But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they’re the limit of what people should be doing.”
When asked if that meant it was illegal to drive somewhere to go for a walk, Hancock said he did not know the exact details of this case. But he said he thought the police were enforcing the rules sensitively.
Hancock told the programme that the current pressure on the NHS was “very, very bad”.
But he said that more than 200,000 people were now being vaccinated every day, and around a third of people over the age of 80 had now been vaccinated. He described that as “significant progress” towards meeting the government’s target of ensuring everyone in the top four priority groups – care home residents and staff, NHS and care staff, the over-70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable – have been offered a jab by 15 February.
He said that seven mass vaccination centres, at locations such as Epsom Downs racecourse, would be opened this week, with more to come in future.
With headteachers saying the number of parents sending children into school in England on grounds they are key workers is much higher now than in the first lockdown, Hancock confirmed that key workers should only send their children into class if absolutely necessary.
“Schools are there for key workers’ children where key workers need to have the children in school in order to be able to get to work,” said Hancock, confirming the message in revised guidance issued by the Department for Education on Friday.
“So for instance if you’re a key worker, and your partner doesn’t work, then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school.”
Hancock said that the government expected to be able to ease restrictions “in the spring”, but he refused to elaborate or spell out exactly when he considered spring to be over.
But he also stressed that even though the government wanted the most vulnerable people to have had their first vaccination by mid-February, vaccines took two or three weeks to become effective, and the government would then need to see what impact this was having on cases and transmission.
Hancock said he did not accept the claim from Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, that some restrictions may be needed next winter.
Asked if Whitty was right, Hancock replied: “I really hope not. I hope that we will be able to handle this in the future through a vaccination programme, in the same way that we do flu each year.”
Hancock refused to say whether he had recently spoken to the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose thinktank has published many Covid policy proposals and who advocated delaying the second dose of vaccine so that larger numbers could get a first dose quickly – a policy subsequently adopted by the government. Asked if they had spoken, Hancock just said he spoke to all sorts of people all the time.
Source: The Guardian
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