Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows roundup: Hancock says vaccine data indicates ‘reduction in transmission’

Sunday shows roundup: Hancock says vaccine data indicates ‘reduction in transmission’
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The national vaccine rollout is continuing unabated, with over 17 million adults now having received a first dose. The government has even brought forward its target date for all adults to be offered a jab from September to the end of July. Hancock said that, although it was still early days, the success of the rollout did seem to be having a visible effect on the rate of re-infection:

MH: We have seen early data [showing] that there’s a reduction in transmission from those who get the jab… There are signs that the numbers in hospital are falling much more sharply than they were in the first wave. There’s further analysis to be done on that.

We will be ‘vigilant to the data’ as lockdown eases

Hancock was also interviewed by Sophy Ridge. With the Prime Minister due to set out the government’s updated roadmap out of England’s lockdown in the House of Commons tomorrow, Ridge asked Hancock about how soon the country could start to open up again:

MH: We absolutely will be vigilant to the data on the way. We’ve seen throughout this pandemic that there have been moments when things haven’t gone as expected… We’ve got to protect against… [and] remain vigilant against any new variants.

‘There is evidence’ that variant cases are ‘coming down’

Ridge asked for the latest on how the UK was faring in facing down the notorious variants of the coronavirus that originated in Brazil and South Africa:

MH: We’ve now got this programme in place to be able to really really try to stamp out a new variant where we see it…

SR: Does that mean that you think cases of those variants are coming down?

MH: Yes, I do… There is evidence of that… We’re doing a lot of work to find out the impact of the vaccine on these new variants… because clearly knowing the answer to that question is critical.

No ‘strong evidence’ that teachers are more likely to catch Covid

Ridge asked Hancock about if, in light of the government’s aim to reopen all schools by March 8th, teachers should be bumped up the queue to receive a vaccine. Hancock said that this was a matter for the government’s advisory body, the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations, who will review the prioritisation now that the four most vulnerable groups have received their jabs:

MH: We’ve asked the expert group, the JCVI, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly, in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible… There isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I will leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think.

Speedy PPE procurement was ‘the right thing to do’

On Friday, the High Court ruled that the government had acted unlawfully by failing to publish details about the awarding of high-value contracts made during the first wave of the pandemic, in time. Under its own Transparency Policy, the government was duty bound to publish the relevant information within 30 days of issuing the contracts. Andrew Marr confronted the Health Secretary Matt Hancock over the delays in publishing the information:


MH: People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight, or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line… It was the right thing to do, and legal cases about timing of transparency returns are completely second order to saving lives.

Keir Starmer – I’m not calling for Hancock to resign

Ridge also spoke to the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and put to him the question of Matt Hancock’s position after the result of the High Court ruling. Starmer told Ridge that he was not out for a scalp at this moment in time:

KS: I don’t want to call for him to resign. I do think he’s wrong about the contracts. There’s been a lot of problems with the contracts… and there’s been a lot of wasted money, and I think that is a real cause for concern… But I think at this stage, calling for people to resign is not what the public really want to see.

‘Cautious careful exit from lockdown’ needed

Ridge asked Starmer what he wanted to see from the government’s roadmap out of the restrictions:

KS: What I want to see from the Prime Minister is a cautious, careful exit from lockdown. We all want this to be the last lockdown, so we’ve got to come out of it in a measured way… So roll out slowly and carefully… follow the science and make sure the support is there for businesses.

We need ‘a national debate’ on vaccine passports

Ridge bought up an issue championed by former Labour leader Tony Blair, of ‘vaccine passports’ for people to be able to prove their immunisation. Starmer suggested that he felt it would become a salient issue in the weeks and months to come:

KS: It’s a very very difficult issue… I think internationally, it’s probably inevitable that some sort of vaccine passport is going to come into being… Vaccine passports within the UK I think is something we need a national debate about… Let’s tread very very carefully on this.

John McDonnell – Staggered school re-openings should be considered

Starmer has backed the government’s ambitions to reopen schools for all pupils on March 8th, while calling for increased testing and the adoption of larger ‘Nightingale classrooms’. Ridge spoke to Starmer’s former shadow cabinet colleague John McDonnell, who put a slightly different case forward:

JM: The teaching unions are saying – very similar to Keir – of course we want the schools to open, but it’s got to be safe… If we have to have a staggered reopening of the schools, let’s listen to those on the front line.

We should all be getting ‘angrier’

Having told Ridge that he was ‘angry’ about the government’s handling of the pandemic and the state of affairs more generally, McDonnell suggested that society should be registering and channelling its collective anger:

SR: Do you think Keir Starmer should get a bit angrier?

JM: I don’t think it’s just on Keir’s shoulders, I think it’s for all of us, all of us who care about our community, whether you’re a politician, or a member of the community, or journalists as well – it’s time to hold this government to account… and we need to be putting forward alternatives now.

‘Unite the party’ and readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP

McDonnell also called for the full reinstatement of Labour’s previous leader and his close ally Jeremy Corbyn to the party’s rank and file. Corbyn, who is a Labour member, but sits as an independent MP, was suspended by Starmer last year after his response to the Equality and Human Right Commission’s report into anti-Semitism during his leadership:

JM: Let’s unite the party as [Starmer] promised, and that does mean giving the whip back to Jeremy Corbyn… so we can move on and really be an effective opposition.

John Edmunds – Vaccinate children ‘as fast as we can’

The epidemiologist and advisor to the government’s SAGE committee, Professor John Edmunds, told Andrew Marr that children were as crucial a group for vaccination as teachers if re-opening schools was to be successful:

JE: Until we’ve all been vaccinated, and I include children here, then there is going to be significant risk of a resurgence… I think there’s an argument for turning to children as fast as we can… There will be continue to be major disruption in schools until we have vaccinated our children.

Justin Welby – Church must ask ‘Where is your soul?’

The Archbishop of Canterbury told Ridge about a report by a commission that he set up looking into the state of housing in the UK. One of the consequences from the report could be thousands of hectares of church land being offered to provide affordable housing where it was most needed:

JW: We’ve tried to set out a vision in a way that was set out in the 1940s for health… The challenge to the church is ‘Where is your soul?’... If you… love your neighbour as yourself… you are going to want stable, sociable, sustainable, safe and secure housing right across society.

Jo Whiley – Me getting vaccine offer before sister was ‘cruel’

And finally, the Radio 2 DJ Jo Whiley has raised her objections to the way that the vaccination scheme does not prioritise those with learning disabilities such as her sister Frances, who has been hospitalised with the virus. She told Andrew Marr about her experience:

JW: It’s been awful… I have no idea why I was offered the vaccine [before my sister]. It felt like the cruellest twist in the world, because I’ve been wanting for her to get the vaccine for a year to be honest… and then for me to suddenly get a call to say I’ve got the vaccine just felt hideously unfair.