James Forsyth

Matt Hancock: the Tier system is no longer strong enough

Matt Hancock: the Tier system is no longer strong enough
Matt Hancock (photo: Sky)
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There is a sense of grim inevitability this morning that even tighter Covid restrictions are coming very soon. On his media round this morning, Matt Hancock has been emphasising that the new variant means that the ‘old tier system… is no longer strong enough’ and that the only thing that can stop the spread of the virus is people not seeing others. There is beginning to be a shift back to the ‘stay at home’ message we heard so much during the first lockdown.

The increased transmissibility of the Kentish variant, let alone the South African one, means it is unclear if even a March-style lockdown would be enough to get the R rate below one. So, the only way out of this situation is mass immunisation.

This means that everything now turns on the vaccine roll-out. The Oxford vaccine, which is much easier to distribute than the Pfizer one, gives the UK a better chance of getting a large number of people jabbed quickly. But rather concerningly the government keeps saying that the constraint is the issue of supply from AstraZeneca, who are manufacturing it. Hancock was strikingly reluctant to commit to a target of 2 million injections a week on Today this morning.

Normal life will only return once the phase one group, about 28 million people, have been vaccinated. It is therefore imperative that this happens as quickly as possible. The government’s reputation for competence will turn on whether this country can achieve that goal faster than our neighbours.