Matt Hancock says 'we're a long, long, long way' from lockdown measures easing

Watch: Matt Hancock says lockdown lifting still ‘a long, long, long way’ away

Matt Hancock has warned that England is a “long, long, long way” from lockdown measures being eased amid stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates.

The health secretary said in an interview on Sunday that the current lockdown rules were beginning to show signs of reducing coronavirus cases nationwide.

But he said the NHS remained under pressure and added that it was “very important that we continue to follow the rules”.

Hancock told Sky News: "There is early evidence that the lockdown is starting to bring cases down.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/01/20: General view of the Covid-19 'Stay Home Save Lives' publicity campaign poster Northumberland street in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of england during the third national lockdown. (Photo by Nicolas Briquet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A 'Stay Home Save Lives' sign in Northumberland street in Newcastle upon Tyne. (Getty)

“But we're a long, long, long way from being low enough because the case rate was incredibly high and you can see the pressure on the NHS, you can see it every day.

"The NHS are doing an amazing job in incredibly difficult circumstances and... I am confident in the measures that we've got in place now.

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“What really matters is that everybody follows them and the reason for that is not just the death toll each day, which is far too high, but also because the pressure on the NHS – including from people who thankfully come out of hospital alive – the pressure on the NHS is enormous and that has knock-on consequences for people who suffer from all other illnesses.

"So it is very, very important that we continue to follow the rules, that's at the core of it even whilst we do everything we can to support the NHS through this."

Paramedics wearing PPE wheel a patient from an ambulance outside the emergency department of the Royal London Hospital in London, England, on January 19, 2021. Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that there are currently more people in hospital in the UK with covid-19 than at any time during the pandemic, with a patient with coronavirus being admitted to hospital every 30 seconds. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Paramedics wearing PPE wheel a patient from an ambulance outside the emergency department of the Royal London Hospital in London. (Getty)

Hancock added that the prevalence of the new variant, which the government said on Friday is more deadly than the original strain of COVID, made it even more important to follow social distancing guidelines.

"We should be worried enough, all of us, about this pandemic to follow the rules and it is just so important that people do,” he said.

“This morning, I've come out of my formal self-isolation, I haven't actually left the house yet because I haven't needed to.

"Whatever the exact nature of the UK new variant, and the scientists do think that it may be more deadly and they've put various estimates on that from about 10% more deadly to a bit more than that, we are not exactly certain about how much more deadly.

"But in a way, for all of us, that doesn't matter. What matters is we've got to get this virus under control and the only way you do that is by stopping the social contact and following the rules."