Former England health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the Government faces a “very difficult, finely-balanced judgment” on whether to strengthen the coronavirus rules.
Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if ministers did not want to change the law they should consider strengthening the guidance on social-distancing.
“It is a very difficult, finely-balanced judgment. The biggest worry is what happens indoor in family gatherings and that’s where the risks do increase,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme.
“They have to respond to what is happening on the ground. I think they can be clearer about what is and isn’t advisable because it would be an enormous tragedy if we had a spike in deaths at the end of January/February because we took our foot off the pedal this close to having a vaccine.”
Mr Hunt said it was on a “knife-edge” whether a third national lockdown would be needed after Christmas.
“Looking at the numbers it is difficult to judge at the moment because in the North East and the North West although infection levels are going up they are still much lower than they have been, and the second strain of the virus doesn’t seem to have spread as much in the North as it has in the South. I would say at the moment it is on a knife-edge.”
Mr Hunt said that if the Oxford-AstraZenca vaccine is approved by regulators before the end of the year it will ensure that the roll-out of the vaccination programme can be maintained.
“It will make a massive difference because the doses that we have of the Pfizer vaccine will keep us going until the end of January and I think we’re not getting another shipment until March.
“So if we could have that Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ready to go in January then we could keep the roll-out going at its current pace.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said its review of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine was still ongoing.
Its comments followed reports the vaccine could be approved before the new year, with the Daily Telegraph reporting senior Whitehall sources believe the MHRA will authorise it on December 28 or 29.
An MHRA spokeswoman said: “Our rolling review of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is ongoing.
“Our process for approving vaccines is designed to make sure that any Covid-19 vaccine authorised meets the expected high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
“Any vaccine must undergo robust clinical trials in line with international standards, with oversight provided by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and no vaccine would be authorised for supply in the UK unless the expected standards of safety, quality and efficacy are met.”
The Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall has said it will speed up the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme in care homes if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by regulators.
“At the moment we are dealing with this Pfizer vaccine, which is difficult,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“On the assumption that we are going to get approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine which is much more familiar because it is much more like the flu vaccination, then I think we will be able to roll out at a much faster pace, but certainly over the next few weeks and next couple of months we expect all care homes to be covered.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk