Katy Balls

Matt Hancock’s tests for lifting lockdown

Matt Hancock’s tests for lifting lockdown
Matt Hancock (photo: Getty)
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As the government comes under pressure from Tory MPs to provide a timeline for pupils returning to school, the Health Secretary remained tight-lipped in the Monday government press conference on when lockdown will be eased.

Asked whether any guidance could be offered on the issue, Matt Hancock cited the number of people admitted to hospital – twice as many as in the first peak – and on ventilators to show there is a long road ahead.

The Health Secretary said that the majority of people understand why it is difficult to put a timeline on ending lockdown. He did though point to the factors that would decide when it could be lifted: the death rate, the number of hospitalisations, the effect of new variants and the success of the vaccine rollout.

He also gave a clear hint that tighter border controls (due to be decided on in a meeting on Tuesday) are coming – stressing the need to take a ‘precautionary principle’ to protect the country at the border. The likelihood of pupils being back in the classroom before spring also appeared to be dealt a blow when deputy medical officer Jenny Harries hinted lockdown might not be eased until the weather improves, as winter increases clinical admissions.

Hancock still found space for some positivity. He used his opening remarks to say the Scottish ambulance service had been helped by staff from the other nations’ ambulance services, concluding: 'We are stronger together, and the UK is stronger together in the fight against this pandemic'. In the Q&A, he pointed to the vaccine rollout as a project which highlighted the strength of the Union. But with many other factors contributing to the decision on when restrictions can be eased, for now a successful vaccine story alone is not enough.