matt hancock

There Is a “High Degree of Confidence” That Vaccines Work Against Indian Variant, Says Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says there is a “high degree of confidence” that vaccines work against the Indian Covid variant, but that it can “spread like wildfire” among those who are unvaccinated. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

The Health Secretary said that a new Oxford University investigation showed that the innoculations available were effective against the variant which is now dominant in some Northern towns. 

Four people are known to have died from the Indian variant but appearing on TV this morning Mr Hancock said those who had been hospitalised were “largely people who are eligible for the vaccine but have not taken it”.

It came as Boris Johnson today pledged to increase the speed of Britain’s vaccine rollout to a million jabs a day in an attempt to beat the increasing prevalence of the variant amid fears it could derail the country’s exit from lockdown. 

Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday he said: “There’s new very early data out from Oxford University, and I would stress that this is from the labs, it’s not clinical data, and it’s very early.

“But it does give us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there’s a cluster.

“That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease.

“We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.”

But Mr Hancock did strike a note of more caution over the final release from lockdown on June 21st, saying the final decision would not be taken until June 14th.

When talking about the final step of the “roadmap” out of lockdown, Hancock said that the Government is being “cautious” because it wants the reopening to be “irreversible”. He seemed to suggest that the June 21st date for this reopening may not be stuck to if enough people don’t get vaccinated against Covid, despite the fact that 36 million people have already had a first vaccine dose and more than 19 million (that is, those who are most vulnerable to the virus) have had a second.

New variants are one of the biggest risks to this opening because of the speed of transmission of [the Indian variant] – it can really spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups. Hence we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, particularly those who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital.

The Mail on Sunday report is worth reading in full.

Ministers “Haven’t Ruled Out” Ending Mask-Wearing Requirements on June 21st, Says Matt Hancock

Sky News presenter Stephen Dixon seemed desperate to pull a sliver of positive news out of Matt Hancock in an interview this morning. Discussing the rules on mask-wearing, the Health Secretary said: “In general settings, we’re keeping the rules on masks as they are for this step [of the “roadmap” out of lockdown, beginning on May 17th] outside of schools.” Hancock claimed that “the cost of [mask-wearing]… is really, really small”, though he failed to address the concerns raised in a recent peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Water Research that “the toxicity of some of the chemicals found and the postulated risks of the rest of the present particles and molecules, raises the question of whether disposable plastic face masks are safe to be used on a daily basis”. He clarified that, for now, the rules “will be staying the same”.

“So there’s a possibility at least that the mask rule… could go in June,” Stephen asked. “We haven’t ruled that out,” Hancock returned – but it turns out that much else still hasn’t been ruled out.

We haven’t ruled that out when it comes to where we end up on social distancing rules and anything to do with certification domestically – for instance for large events. Whether that goes ahead… will all be set out ahead of step four [of the “roadmap”]… not before June 21st.

https://twitter.com/skystephen/status/1392011015697600514?s=20

Given the extent to which the Health Secretary talked about face masks before being asked about dates, it seems as if the decision has already been made (at least privately) that mask mandates will remain in place beyond the “end” of lockdown, as per previous reports.

In the interview, quoted on the Sky News website, Hancock also discussed the updated rules on hugging.

We will be changing the rules to be far more about people taking personal responsibility, exercising common sense according to their circumstances.

We will set out really clearly the risks. People understand the risks – we know that – and we’ll make that very, very plain and then people can exercise their own personal responsibility.

… Grandparents, sometimes for the first time in over a year, will be able to be close to their grandchildren, but taking into account the individual risk of catching this disease which differs according to circumstances.

Worth reading in full.

Why Has the NHS COVID-19 App Not Been Withdrawn?

What follows is a guest post by our technology correspondent.

Grant Schapps has been doing the media rounds today announcing that the NHS App is going to be the vehicle for vaccine passports, as I predicted on this site last month. That is going to cause huge problems. What we did not hear in those media interviews were any questions asking when its sister app, the NHS Test and Trace app, is going to be withdrawn. Why would they ask that? Well, because Matt Hancock said that is what he would do.

He could not have been clearer about it. In a letter to Harriet Harman’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on May 4th 2020 he wrote: “We intend to withdraw the app once the epidemic is over and it is no longer required.”

Is the pandemic over? Sarah Walker, Chief Investigator on the Office for National Statistics COVID-19 Infection Survey and Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Oxford, says so. The Telegraph reported her saying: “Britain has moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation.” That was on April 23rd so plenty of time for Matt Hancock to have gone onto the app store and withdrawn his app.

Why the delay, Matt?

Matt Hancock Owns Shares in NHS Contract Firm

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The Government has been accused of “cronyism” after it emerged that the Health Secretary owns shares in an NHS contract-winning firm which his sister is also connected to. BBC News has the story.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock owns shares in a company which was approved as a potential supplier for NHS trusts in England…

In March, [Matt Hancock] declared he had acquired more than 15% of Topwood Ltd, which was granted the approved status in 2019.

The firm, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, also won £300,000 of business from NHS Wales this year.

A Government spokesman said there had been no conflict of interest. …

Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he had acquired more than 15% of the shares in Topwood, under a “delegated management arrangement”.

Public contract records show that the NHS in England awarded the company a place in its Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for local trusts in 2019, the year after Mr Hancock became Health Secretary.

The MPs’ register did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth – involved in the firm since its foundation in 2002 – owns a larger portion of the shares and is a director, or that Topwood has links to the NHS – as first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog and Health Service Journal (HSJ).

Matt Hancock Summoned to High Court to Justify Opening Shops Before Pubs

Why is it that pubs and restaurants cannot open at the same time as “non-essential” shops? Matt Hancock has been ordered to the High Court to justify this decision, following legal action by Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond. The Telegraph has the story.

Matt Hancock has been ordered to the High Court on Tuesday to justify why he is allowing non-essential shops to open before pubs and restaurants.

The legal action has been brought by nightclubs operator Sacha Lord and Pizza Express founder Hugh Osmond to try to force the early opening of hospitality venues.

According to High Court documents seen by the Telegraph the pair are challenging “the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 to the extent that those Regulations provide for non-essential retail businesses to reopen before indoor hospitality businesses”.

The order from Mr Justice Swift says that “the Secretary of State shall by 10am on Tuesday April 6th, 2021 file and serve his response to the application” from the pair.

Although Mr Hancock has been summoned to the High Court, it is likely that officials in his department will have to attend court on his behalf. 

“Non essential” shops will be able to open from April 12th, while indoor hospitality businesses will have to remain closed until at least May 17th. Mr Osmond has said that this case offers “some hope… for those of us who cherish British freedom and who crave a return to rational and democratic governing”. He continued:

In a democracy, evidence and rationality should still matter, and so too should transparency, challenge and accountability. 

Government has been given an easy ride in Parliament with the official Opposition being nowhere to be seen.  

This has led to arbitrariness, randomness and a complete lack of logic in the rules, and we’re starting to see it being accompanied by something even more sinister: an arrogance, and a sense that ministers are above scrutiny.   

The Government left us no choice but to take it to court and regardless of the eventual outcome of the case, I am grateful to Mr Justice Swift (whose name seems so apt) for recognising that this is a truly urgent matter affecting the lives of millions of people, that simply cannot wait.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has congratulated Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond on Twitter for forcing the Health Secretary to justify opening non-essential businesses, but not indoor hospitality businesses, in court.