Matt Hancock discusses tier system after national lockdown
In a document confirming the Government’s intention for local elections to take place on May 6, the Cabinet Office appeared to give the first indication of exactly when the first phase of jabs would be done. Up to now Ministers have only committed to giving all over-50’s the jab by “the end of spring”.
However, a document published today stated: “The UK’s vaccination programme is planned to have reached all nine priority cohorts by May, meaning that the Government can commit to go ahead with these polls with confidence – and maintain the choice for voters between voting in person or remotely.”
It takes three weeks for immunity to have kicked in after a vaccine has been given, suggesting the Government may even be hoping to have given a jab to all over-50s by the middle of April.
Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said: “As the Government rolls out the vaccine to the most vulnerable, we will be able to leave lockdown and open our country up safely again.
“We will work with political parties to ensure that these important elections are free and fair.”
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It comes as the Prime Minister looks to begin easing England out of lockdown from next month.
Mr Johnson has vowed to set out his roadmap to end coronavirus restrictions for good on the week beginning February 22.
The re-opening of schools will be the first step in the path back to normality on March 8, with the introduction of activities such as tennis, golf and some outdoor socialising set to return shortly afterwards.
Retail and hospitality are thought to be earmarked for return from the middle of April or start of May.
The details of a skeleton for the roadmap have emerged amid increasing pressure on the Government from backbenchers to quickly relax Covid rules now the vaccine was being rapidly deployed.
Mark Harper, former Conservative chief whip and chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of MPs, yesterday warned he feared the “goal posts” for easing restrictions were being moved and England could be locked down for months to come.
Scientists will carry out a review of available data on lockdown and the vaccine rollout from February 15 to feed into the specifics of the roadmap out of lockdown to be presented the following week.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said yesterday the UK could see “a significant return to normality” once all over-50s have been given an injection.
He said: “The fact coronavirus is a seasonal disease, I think will make a big difference and allow us to open up.
“I think what we’ll see is a phased opening up as the vaccination levels increase, and then we will be more or less back to normal for the summer, I would imagine.”
At the current rate of vaccination, all over-50s will have been given a first dose of a jab by March 25, way before the May target outlined in the local elections document published by the Cabinet Office.
Modelling by University College London researchers also suggests the reproduction number for coronavirus is now was 0.75 on February 2, which means the epidemic is shrinking.
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Professor Karl Friston who heads up the team said it means by July the UK could have reached heard immunity – the point at which restrictions could theoretically be scrapped completely.
He said: “The bottom line is that vaccination appears to be having a tangible effect on confirmed new cases and daily death rates recorded over the past few weeks.
“If the vaccination programme continues to unfold at its current pace – and lockdown is eased gradually as a function of declining prevalence – we might attain herd immunity by as early as July.
A Whitehall source told the Mail Online: “If the vaccine programme goes the way we think it will go, then you will start to see quite a quick return to normal in April and May.”
However, scientists are worried about restrictions being lifted too quickly.
Professor Graham Medley, chairman of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), told Times Radio it was important “to avoid a yo-yo situation where we unwrap things too rapidly, we get a resurgence and we have to lock down again”.
He added: “The real concern here and where we really need to be careful is that it all comes down to R number.
“As soon as we start to relax, things go up.
“The key thing for me is we need to get our children back to school first – that’s clearly the most important thing.
“But I would really encourage it needs to be gradual stepping out of lockdown so that we don’t get a resurgence as we move into the spring.”
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