England on course to end social distancing in mid-June, Matt Hancock says

Rob Merrick
·2-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

England is on course to end all social distancing in mid-June, Matt Hancock says – even though a review is not due to conclude until then.

Asked if the pace of vaccinations and falling hospitalisation and death rates offered “real hope” of hitting that target, a beaming health secretary replied simply: “Yes.”

The comment goes much further than the government ‘roadmap’, which merely sets out the intention to end all legal limits – but not guidance – on distancing by 21 June.

A review is exploring whether all such restrictions can be lifted by that date, depending on further progress made in curbing the Covid-19 threat.

It will inform decisions on “the timing and circumstances under which the rules on one metre-plus, the wearing of face coverings and other measures may be lifted”, the roadmap stated.

Mr Hancock’s comment is likely to fuel criticism – also made over the likelihood of foreign holidays this summer – that ministers are raising hopes that may have to be dashed.

Watch: COVID-19 - No change to lockdown roadmap despite six cases of Brazil variant, Matt Hancock says

Only last month, he pointed out that Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, had said “mask wearing in winter is one of the examples of things that might need to stay”.

And, unveiling the roadmap on 22 February, Mr Johnson pledged: “Our journey back towards normality will be subject to resolving a number of key questions and to do this we will conduct four reviews.

“One will assess how long we need to maintain social distancing and face masks. This will also inform guidance on working from home which should continue wherever possible until this review is complete.”

But, during a statement on recent progress, one Conservative MP congratulated Mr Hancock on “the pace” of jabs and “the good news about the sharp decline in hospital admissions and deaths, amongst vaccinated groups”.

“Does he agree with me that this provides real hope that we will be able to end social distancing, along with other restrictions, from 21 June?” Ruth Edwards asked – prompting his positive reply.

An earlier step in the roadmap promises, by 17 May, to “update the advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging”.

During the statement, Mr Hancock also said people must be able to prove they have had a coronavirus vaccination – while those who cannot be inoculated for medical reasons must also be helped.

“We will need to absolutely take into consideration those who have a certified clinical reason why they can’t have the jab – which does apply to a relatively small number of people,” he told MPs.

And he repeated that there may be a need for a third Covid-19 vaccination dose over autumn, as new variants emerge.

“The exact number of vaccines that we will need for the UK population is not yet known,” Mr Hancock said.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown

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