Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: I did not lie about care home tests, says Hancock

Sunday shows round-up: I did not lie about care home tests, says Hancock
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The Health Secretary was back in front of the cameras this morning, and there was plenty to discuss, from the planned lifting of all restrictions on 21 June to the fallout from Dominic Cummings’ testimony before MPs last week. Dominic Cummings’ most wounding accusation last week was that Hancock had deliberately lied to the Prime Minister’s face during a cabinet meeting in the early days of the pandemic. The allegation concerns the testing of patients who were to be moved directly from hospitals into care homes. Cummings claims thousands of deaths resulted from outbreaks in care homes because such tests were not carried out, despite Hancock confirming to the Prime Minister that they were. Hancock categorically denied Cummings’ allegation:

AM: Did you tell Boris Johnson in March that people sent from hospitals into care homes were being tested when you knew they weren’t?

MH: No, I did not.

AM: …So Dominic Cummings was lying about that?

MH: …He said that people ‘would be’, and the truth is, of course that was the policy… but I had to build this testing capacity… The testing wasn’t available to test everybody… At the time, the clinical advice was that very few people would be able to pass on Covid if they didn’t have any symptoms, so the testing was reserved for those who had symptoms.

Delta variant is around 40 per cent more transmissible

Perhaps of most pressing concern is the progress of the Indian variant of the coronavirus, which has recently been rebranded as the ‘Delta variant’ by the World Health Organisation. This variant has now been judged by Public Health England to be the UK’s dominant strain. Andrew Marr asked Hancock for the latest available data on Delta:

MH: The best estimate of the growth advantage… is around 40 per cent… But the good news is that hospitalisations [are] broadly flat, and the majority appear to be those who have not had a vaccine at all… The best scientific advice I have at this stage is that after one jab, [the vaccine] is not quite as effective… but after both jabs, it is.

‘We’re absolutely open’ to delay full unlocking

It has been postulated that the emergence of this variant could delay the planned unlocking later this month. Hancock said that the government was continuing to keep its options open:

AM: If the data turns bad, would you delay the 21 June opening?

MH: We’re absolutely open to doing that if that’s what needs to happen… The roadmap was set up in order to be able to take these sorts of changes into account.

‘You have to make decisions on the data you’ve got’

Trevor Phillips also interviewed Hancock and challenged him over the government’s timing when it came to placing India on the official red list for travel. Drawing comparisons with Pakistan, which had been placed on the red list two weeks earlier, Phillips noted that some 20,000 people had arrived in the UK from India in that space of time. Hancock replied that much of the data on India and the Delta variant was only knowable in hindsight:

MH: The positivity of those coming in from India was a third of what it was for those coming from Pakistan. [At that time] we didn’t even know about the [Delta] variant. You have to make decisions on the data you’ve got… As we saw the case rates rise in India… then we took the action to put India on the red list.

Aid cuts are ‘entirely reasonable’

This week, the Speaker may select an amendment calling on the government to reverse its cut to the overseas aid budget from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP, as announced in the 2020 Spending Review. A significant group of Conservative rebels, including former Prime Minister Theresa May and the Foreign Affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, may have the numbers to see the government change course. Hancock defended the cuts as they stood:

MH: I think that the decisions that the government has taken around this are entirely reasonable… The cost of [the pandemic] to the Exchequer has been hundreds of billions of pounds, so it is absolutely reasonable in the circumstances, when we are delivering over £10 billion of aid… and we’re making available this vaccine at cost.

Lisa Nandy – Children should be vaccinated

Marr spoke to the Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy. On Friday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved in principle the safety of the Pfizer vaccine in children between the ages of 12 and 15, meaning the decision will now be referred on to the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations for action. Nandy signalled that Labour fully behind younger people receiving jabs:

AM: Do you think that children should now be vaccinated?

LN: Yes… and it’s becoming apparent that the rise in transmission rates is being driven amongst younger people… So I think it is right to follow the public health officials… We’ve got to do our bit here in Britain to break the transmission cycles.

‘Dangerous’ amber list should be scrapped

Nandy argued that the amber designation on the government’s travel list, which permits people to travel to certain countries and then quarantine at home after their return to Britain, was unfit for purpose and highly risky:

LN: We think the amber list should be scrapped. We think it’s pointless, we think it’s confusing, and that confusion is actually dangerous at the moment… At the moment, travelling overseas, particularly when you’ve got places like Thailand and Vietnam on the amber list, where new variants are emerging… is the wrong thing to do.

Kate Green – I hope Conservatives will support us this week

On Times Radio, Politico’s Jack Blanchard interviewed the Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green. The government suffered a severe setback this week when its Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins resigned, accusing it of failing pupils by falling far short of the £15 billion cash injection he believed would be needed. On Wednesday, Labour will be calling a vote on the government’s catch-up plan for students, and Green reached out to the opposing benches:

KG: I hope Conservative MPs and indeed MPs from all parties will support us… I think when you see such a gap between what the government’s own expert education adviser Kevan Collins recommended, and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was prepared to cough up for, I very much hope we will see Conservatives MPs… supporting us in the vote this week.

Tony Blair – Vaccinated people ‘should have maximum freedoms they can’

And finally, Marr spoke to former Prime Minister Tony Blair about his Institute’s latest paper on recovery from the pandemic. Blair argued that not taking the vaccine if you were able to was irresponsible, and pushed for a carrot and stick approach to maximise the uptake as far as possible:

TB: The paper we’re putting out today is saying we should really distinguish between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated… It’s important… to ensure that those people who are vaccinated have the maximum freedom they can.