The link between Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths is being “severed” but it is too early to say whether the June 21 lifting of restrictions will go ahead, Matt Hancock said.
The Health Secretary told MPs that on Wednesday there were 3,180 new cases of coronavirus, which is “the highest since April 12”, but that vaccines were working.
He said it was “too early now to say, yet, whether we can take the full step four on June 21” but added that he “desperately” wants to.
Mr Hancock was appearing in the Commons to answer questions regarding former aide Dominic Cumming’s evidence on the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
The Health Secretary told MPs “this pandemic isn’t over yet”, adding: “Our vaccination programme has reached 73% of the adult population, but that means that more than a quarter still haven’t been jabbed… 43% of adults have had both jabs, but that means that more than half are yet to get the fullest possible protection that two jabs gives.
“Yesterday we saw 3,180 new cases of coronavirus, the highest since April 12, but thanks to the power of vaccination, in which I have always believed, the link from cases to hospitalisations and to deaths is being severed.”
He said around one in 10 people in hospital with Covid-19 in current “hotspots” have had both vaccines, but the vast majority have not which “gives us a high degree of confidence that the vaccine is highly effective.”
It comes after Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose modelling was instrumental to the UK locking down in March 2020, said the Indian variant was now “the dominant strain” in the UK and the full reopening of society on June 21 “hangs in the balance”.
Asked in the Commons by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt what measures could be taken to ensure June 21 – when all legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted – could go ahead, Mr Hancock said: “It is true that the Indian variant is spreading across the country, and estimates vary as to what proportion of the new cases each day are the variant first identified in India, which is more transmissible.”Now my assessment is that it is too early now to say, yet, whether we can take the full step four on June 21.
“Like him, I desperately want us to, but we will only do that if it’s safe.
“We will make a formal assessment ahead of June 14 as to what step we can take on the 21st, and in that we will be both driven by the data, we will be advised on and guided by the science, and we will be fully transparent both with this House and with the public in those decisions.”
Later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters “I don’t see anything currently in the data” to divert from the June 21 target.
He said: “As I have said many times, I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map.
“But we may need to wait.
“Don’t forget the important point about the intervals between the steps of the road map – we put that five weeks between those steps to give us time to see what effect the unlockings are having.”
Figures for the seven days to May 22 show that, of the 315 local areas in England, 137 (43%) have seen a rise in Covid rates, 162 (51%) have seen a fall and 16 are unchanged.
Bolton in Greater Manchester continues to have the highest rate, with 1,286 new cases in the seven days to May 22 – the equivalent of 447.2 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up from 321.7 in the seven days to May 15.
In England on May 24, there were 98 hospital admissions for Covid-19, slightly above the seven-day average (88) but down 98% from the second-wave peak.
Tim Spector, lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Study app and professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said the Indian variant was probably now dominant but there were no current signs of a third wave.
“The Indian variant is now probably becoming the dominant strain in the UK but the national figures remain unaffected, despite fears the variant might start a third wave,” he said.
“The hotspots we’ve detected this week include Leicester, Bury and Bradford and we are still seeing higher numbers in Aberdeen, Kirklees and Bolton.
“Reassuringly, we aren’t seeing numbers rise in other surrounding areas.
“Our data also indicates vaccines are still effective against the Indian variant and this is likely the reason why cases haven’t increased and hospitalisation and deaths remain low.”