The Health Secretary has urged those who are eligible for vaccination – but have not yet made an appointment – to show up to get their vaccine as he warns of the possible impact of the Indian variant.
Mr Hancock said the variant may ‘spread even faster’ than the Kent variant, which caused the second deadly wave of infections in the UK this winter, with a total of just over 1,300 cases found in the country so far.
He said it was “becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country” such as Bolton and Blackburn.
In Bolton, where a number of people have ended up in hospitals with the Indian variant, the “vast majority” had been eligible for a COVID vaccine but had not yet had one, Mr Hancock said.
He compared the current situation in the country to “a race between the vaccination program and the virus”, the Indian variant having “given the virus some extra legs in this race”.
There were concerns that the spread of the Indian variant in the UK could derail the government’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions.
But Mr Hancock said the easing planned tomorrow for the third stage of the roadmap – allowing domestic mixing between households – will continue.
And a decision would be announced on June 14 as to whether the country would move to step four a week later, when ministers aim to remove all legal limits. contact.
“We have to be careful, we have to be careful, we have to be vigilant and we have said – at every step – that we will look at the four tests we have,” Mr Hancock told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday. show.
“We evaluated these last week for the move we are making as a country tomorrow and our evaluation was that all four are satisfied. The fourth of these four tests is whether a new variant causes us to deviate from the course.
“We will of course assess this over the coming weeks and we will make a final decision for the fourth stage, which is the biggest stage of the roadmap.
“We will make this final decision on June 14th. We’ve always said we want it to be safe, we really want it to be irreversible. The new variants are one of the biggest risks for this opening.
“Due to the speed of transmission of it, it can really spread like wildfire among unvaccinated groups – so we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, especially those who are most vulnerable to it. end up in the hospital. “
Mr Hancock pointed to early data from an Oxford University study, saying there was “a high degree of confidence” that existing COVID vaccines work against the Indian variant.
“The main message I have for everyone this morning is: get vaccinated,” he said. “If you’re in one of the eligible groups, come forward and get a hit. “
But the Health Secretary warned of an ‘explosion of cases’, adding:’ Because this variant can spread even faster than the Kent variant – we saw what happened with this in December – that means if it gets out of hand, we’re going to have a very, very large number of cases.
“And so, even with the protection you get from the vaccine – the vaccine protection is very high, but it’s not absolute. “
Mr Hancock defended the timing of the government’s decision to put India on the UK’s travel ‘red list’ on April 23, which some have criticized arriving too late.
“This variant was notified as a variant under investigation after we had already put India on the red list,” he said.
“The decision to put India on the red list was made due to the high positivity rate of people coming from India looking at the epi-curve in India.
“When we put Pakistan on the red list at the beginning of April, it was because the proportion of people living with HIV from Pakistan was three times higher than that from India,”
“And it was only after I put India on the red list that this variant was investigated, and then earlier this month it became a variant of concern. “
When asked whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s planned trip to India in late April – in an effort to boost trade talks – had an impact on government decisions on travel restrictions in India, Mr Hancock said replied, “We make these decisions based on the evidence. ”