Javid's set expectations sky high within hours - but expect his influence to be felt more gradually

·3-min read

Sajid Javid managed to set expectations sky high within hours of his appointment as health secretary with his first public words outside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

By declaring that he wanted to get life back to normal "as soon as possible" as a "priority", he ensured early cheers on the Tory benches and those sections of the public who feel there has not been enough emphasis on binning COVID restrictions.

Later, the DHSC released a secondary welcome statement in written form under Mr Javid's name.

Although several commentators highlighted the apparent failure in this to repeat Mr Javid's ambition for speedy freedom - thereby implying officials drafting the statement had a distinct view from their new boss - the reality is probably more mundane.

While finding time to thank Matt Hancock and set out his stall on coronavirus restrictions, the new health secretary omitted to mention the NHS. Officials corrected that swiftly.

Mr Javid has the chance to prove his new credentials almost at once.

Downing Street had promised Monday would be the "mid-point review", when ministers would announce whether to bring forward the Stage 4 lockdown lifting measures in England from 19 July to 5 July.

This is the moment that unlimited numbers of people will be allowed to gather indoors and other limits are scrapped.

Tories like Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News that the government should be bold and do it because the scientific evidence in his view is promising.

There has been no official word on how that review is looking, but one government source told me that it is "very, very unlikely" to happen, although changes could still be made overnight.

This goes to the nub of Mr Javid's challenge.

Firstly, COVID-19 case rates have continued to rise, approximately 60% week-on-week.

Is the government ready to take the plunge and argue this matters far less than the fact hospitalisation has only risen 10% in the same time?

Maybe - but they might want two more weeks to be sure.

Secondly, Mr Javid will find himself with the same network of scientific and medical advisers that Mr Hancock left behind.

It would be a brave new secretary of state who defied all these figures in the first few days in the job.

Thirdly, government policy has still not changed, even if the personnel have.

Boris Johnson will remain the final decision maker in all these areas and his calculations will be the same this week as last.

It is more likely that Mr Javid will say essentially what Mr Hancock would have said - that we are on course to open up on 19 July and there is nothing in the hospitalisation or vaccination rate data to suggest any other course is needed.

The new health secretary will have an influence - he also has a big say on areas like social distancing restrictions, face masks and policy over foreign holidays - where Mr Hancock was notoriously cautious to irritation across Whitehall.

But expect the influence of a change at the top to be felt more gradually.

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