Matt Hancock has defended the government delay of nearly three weeks before putting India on its travel red list, a move only after Boris Johnson’s planned visit to Delhi was canceled.
His defense came as concern grew over the increase in cases of the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India, particularly in the north-west and parts of London, which could affect the future relaxation of foreclosure restrictions.
Hancock said the decision not to put India on the Red List was “based on evidence” when asked if it was linked to the Prime Minister’s desire to revive trade talks during his scheduled visit in April, as cases skyrocketed in India.
The country was put on the red list, which requires hotel quarantine, for entering England 17 days after Pakistan and only after Johnson’s visit was canceled.
“When we put Pakistan on the red list at the beginning of April, it was because the proportion of HIV-positive people from Pakistan was three times higher than the proportion from India, and it was only after Redlisted India as this variant was investigated and then earlier this month it became a variant of concern, ”Hancock told Sky News.
He said it was “very likely to become the dominant variant” in the UK, due to its transmissibility. The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunizations (JCVI) was reportedly “cautiously optimistic” that the vaccines would work against the Indian variant of Covid-19.
Government science advisers have suggested people should still avoid socializing indoors when rules are relaxed on Monday, and Labor’s Yvette Cooper said the government should suspend plans to allow international travel.
Hancock reiterated that places with a high number of cases linked to the variant, such as Bolton and Blackburn, could see local lockdowns put in place, but said it was not a step the government wanted to take.
“The approach we take at Bolton and Blackburn is to absolutely stack tests and vaccinations to try to overcome that,” he said.
Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that five people who had received a single shot of a Covid vaccine had been hospitalized with the variant in Bolton, and one person who had received both. He said he was not aware of any deaths among those who had been vaccinated.
Major new restrictions were due to be lifted on Monday, making it possible for the first time to socialize indoors and spend the night with other households, with advice against cuddling also being lifted.
Hancock said he would hug his own parents but stay outside. “Of course, there are people who yearn for physical contact – you have to do it with care. If you had both hits more than two weeks ago, it’s much safer, ”he said.
But Hancock stressed that the government is moving towards a “mantra” of personal accountability. “We all have personal responsibility, we all now know the kinds of things that are riskier, but we are able, because the number of cases is so low, to move away from some of the more restrictive interventions,” he said. he declared.
Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Government’s Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that people should be careful.
“My personal judgment is that I will do things outside whenever possible,” he said. When asked if he would avoid indoor pubs, he replied, “For now, yes.”
“My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should be doing it,” he said. “Whenever possible, socialize outdoors, maintain social distancing, if you want to hug, hug carefully.”
Walport said it was “a perilous time … We have a variant that shows good evidence to be more transmissible and maybe a lot more transmissible … And the other thing we know is that this new variant coming from India is actually quite widely distributed across the country. . “
He said there was a chance that the Indian variant of the virus could cause substantial problems in “people who have not yet been vaccinated, people who are only partially protected because they have had a vaccination. , and… in a small percentage of cases. vaccination for whatever reason does not work.
He said vaccines would largely protect people against serious infections and death, but said a small fraction of a very large number of infections could lead to a significant number of deaths and hospitalizations.
Sage adviser Professor John Edmunds said the government should not rule out roadmap changes to ease restrictions if necessary. “I think we need to watch this very carefully, I don’t think we should rule anything out. So if things seem to be getting worse quickly, I think action needs to be taken, ”he said.
Asked whether the situation could have been avoided if the border with India had been closed more quickly, he replied: “I don’t think it would have been avoided, it could have delayed things a bit. “
However, he said the UK was “in a much, much better place now than we were when the Kent variant first hit us in November, December.” “
He said hospitals were now almost entirely empty of Covid patients and two-thirds of the adult population had been vaccinated. “It’s a new threat – but we’re not in the same position we were in December,” he said.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the select home affairs committee, said the government should reverse its decision to allow overseas travel from Monday.
“The government must slow down its plans. I don’t understand why it will lift some of its international travel restrictions tomorrow. I think they should be a lot more careful about it, ”she told Andrew Marr.
JCVI member Professor Adam Finn said the committee may reconsider the recommendation that people under the age of 40 be offered non-AstraZeneca jabs if that means it could speed up the rollout.