Matt Hancock sounded like a man who had just been rescued from a rapidly sinking ship when he welcomed the start of the vaccine programme in the Commons this afternoon. Almost visibly dripping with relief, the Health Secretary told MPs that it was an 'emotional' day, and paid tribute to his civil servants and team in the Department of Health for being 'amazing'. The Health Secretary has naturally had one of the most challenging years of anyone to hold that post, and he hasn't always had the back-up of his colleagues as he has tried to grapple with the pandemic. Perhaps that is why when it was the turn of Health Select Committee chair and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask the minister a question, he congratulated Hancock and then asked whether and where he would be going on holiday next summer.
“Help is on its way and the end is in sight — not just of this terrible pandemic but of the onerous restrictions that have made this year so hard for so many — but even while we can now see the route out, there is still a long march ahead. Let us not blow it now. There are worrying signs of the virus growing in some parts of the country, including parts of Essex, London and Kent. Over the coming weeks and months, we must all keep following the rules to keep people safe and make sure we can get through this safely together.
Whether the wider public keep on following the rules is one thing, whether his Conservative colleagues back Hancock's approach to the rules is another. The backbenchers who rebelled on the reintroduction of the tiered system last week are clear that they expect the system to change to a much more localised one when it is reviewed next week — and for many of the areas they represent to be moved down a tier as a result. Hancock's summer holiday (in Cornwall, apparently) is still a long way off.