att Hancock has raised the prospect that London could be under lockdown for months as has warned it will be “very difficult” to keep a virulent new strain of the coronavirus under control until vaccinations are rolled out.
The new Tier 4 restrictions came into force on Sunday morning and will be reviewed on December 30. However the health secretary indicated it was unlikely they would be relaxed at that point.
Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: “It is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”
“We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present,” Mr Hancock said.
“All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem.
“We know that because we know that in November that in the areas where this new variant started, in Kent, the cases carried on rising whereas in the rest of the country the November lockdown worked very effectively.
“It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months.”
Mr Hancock said he hopes 500,000 people in the UK will have received the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by the end of the weekend.
Asked why the new lockdown had been brought into force just four days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said banning Christmas was “inhumane”, Mr Hancock said: “Well we don’t want to do anything of this but it’s necessary. This has been an awful end to what’s been an incredibly difficult year.”
He said it was the Government’s “duty to act” when ministers were presented on Friday with evidence about the highly infectious nature of the new strain. “We acted very quickly and decisively with the announcements that that Prime Minister set out yesterday, and you know I just think everybody watching will feel this sense that we both feel of disappointment and it’s so difficult ahead of Christmas, which everybody was really looking forward to, after all of the sacrifices that have been made.
“But unfortunately, this virus, the news strain, was out of control. We’ve got to get it under control and…the only way we can do that is by restricting social contact.”
Meanwhile, Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, revealed that the new coronavirus variant had been identified in October from a sample taken in September.
But she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday that its greater transmissibility was only confirmed earlier this week.
She added: “So there is constant evolution happening in the virus and the virus mutates all the time.
“This particular variant was identified from whole genome sequencing in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.”
Another health expert has warned it is too early to tell how severe the effect of the new strain of coronavirus will be.
Professor Devi Sridhar, who holds a chair in global public health at Edinburgh University, told Sky News there are three pieces of information scientists are looking for.
“The first is, is it more infectious – is it doubling time faster – and it seems like it is, and this is what is really concerning, because it is going to become harder to supress it with our exiting tier systems.
“The second is, are health outcomes more severe – do we see more hospitalisations – and we just don’t know that yet.
“And the third is, could it evade our vaccines if it actually changes quite significantly and so we don’t know that either. It seems like the vaccines are still effective.
“But this just also shows why supersession is important. The more virus that is circulating the more chances there are to have different mutations as well as jumps into different animals, across species and back into humans and then it is harder for us to keep a handle on the situation.”
— to www.standard.co.uk