Health Sec Says ‘Impossible to Know’ When Restrictions Will Be Lifted

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attends a virtual press conference to update the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 11, 2021. - Seven mass coronavirus vaccination sites opened across England Monday as the government raced to dose millions of people while a …
ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there is “no timescale” for lifting coronavirus restrictions, as media reports that tougher measures could be added to lockdown by next week.

Last Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced England’s third lockdown. Refusing to give a firm end date of lifting restrictions, the prime minister appeared to suggest a soft deadline in mid-February, but only “if things go well”. The following day, senior minister Michael Gove pushed that date back to some time in March, and when the measures went to the House of Commons last Wednesday, Johnson admitted that the lockdown could legally last until March 31st.

The health secretary has added to the uncertainty of when the government will release Britons from restrictions, by saying there is “no timescale”. Asked whether there could be an easing by March 8th — three weeks after the government pledged to vaccinate 14 million of the most medically vulnerable people — Mr Hancock told Sky News on Wednesday: “It’s impossible to know. We’ll keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they’re necessary.”

He then insisted that the government was “on track” to deliver the vaccination programme to the four most vulnerable groups by February 15th.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock would not rule out the government changing lockdown rules again, saying: “We always keep these things under review.”

“Of course you can always make changes at the margin, but we brought in a very significant restriction, the stay-at-home measures … It is possible then to make further restrictions but what I’d say is that the most important thing is compliance with the existing measures, that’s the thing that is going to make the difference,” he added.

However, sources speaking to the Daily Mail on Tuesday said that new restrictions could be days away, with the prime minister waiting to see whether people are still allegedly flouting Chinese coronavirus rules this weekend.

“The compliance data is mixed,” the source told the newspaper. “We should have better data by the weekend and at that point we will have to decide whether we need to go further.”

Ministers are said to be considering banning two people from different households meeting for exercise, and closing more businesses such as non-essential retailers running click-and-collect services, estate agents, and even outdoor markets. They are also looking into forcing social distancing to be increased from two metres (six feet) to three metres (nine feet).

It is “more important than ever that the public stay at home”, the prime minister reportedly told a Cabinet meeting on Monday. However, Johnson has been accused of flouting the rules himself after he was seen cycling at Olympic Park on Sunday, seven miles from Downing Street, despite there being three other large London parks in closer proximity.

Meanwhile, Labour’s London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and other London councils are demanding that the government to force the closure of places of worship. They have also called for enforced maskwearing outside in busy settings such as supermarket queues and high streets.

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