Hancock says 'it's on all of us' to help ease Covid lockdown in England

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Health secretary looks to personal responsibility to replace social distancing laws to get life back to normal

Matt Hancock: ‘It is clear eradication is not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it.’
Matt Hancock: ‘It is clear eradication is not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it.’ Photograph: WPA/Getty Images
Matt Hancock: ‘It is clear eradication is not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it.’ Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

First published on Tue 23 Feb 2021 04.18 EST

The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said everyone needs to play their part in order to meet the targets set for easing lockdown in England, with the aim to move to “personal responsibility” rather than having social distancing laws “that get in the way of normal life”.

Hancock said that while England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, made it clear that people might still need to wear masks this winter, the government wanted to “get rid of social-distancing-type laws” that “dictate how all of us live our daily lives”.

“But, it is also clear that eradication is unfortunately not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it,” Hancock told Times Radio.


How England's Covid lockdown is being lifted

Step 1, part 1

In effect from 8 March, all pupils and college students returned fully. Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor. 

Step 1, part 2

In effect from 29 March, outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens. Outdoor sport for children and adults allowed. The official stay at home order ends, but people will be encouraged to stay local. People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

Step 2

In effect from 12 April, non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and some public buildings such as libraries and commercial art galleries can reopen. Most outdoor venues can open, including pubs and restaurants, but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopening are settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will still apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open, but again people can only go alone or with their own household. Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities is also allowed, but only for one household. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

Step 3

Again with the caveat "no earlier than 17 May", depending on data, vaccination levels and current transmission rates.

Step 3 entails that most mixing rules are lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens. Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households. Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.

For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer. Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.

This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a separate review.

Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, all legal limits will be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.

Peter Walker Political correspondent

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On Monday, the government promised spring and summer would be “incomparably better” than life in lockdown as the prime minister, Boris Johnson, set out a four-stage plan for England that could pave the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums once again and domestic tourism to return.

However, Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and member of the government advisory group SPI-M, said he was concerned the virus might persist in parts of the country.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Covid-19 could remain a “disease of the deprived”, he said: “This is a real concern for me and I know a number of other scientists have raised this, that we may end up in a situation where we have the ‘vaccine rich’, as it were, who are able to access the vaccine who have taken up the vaccine and are at a much lower risk.

“And then maybe people in society who have not taken up the vaccine. Potentially these individuals could be clustered in particular parts of the country, and there is increased risk there.

“So I think it’s something that we do need to do more about to make sure that the vaccine is available to everyone to take up and so that we minimise the risk of the virus persisting in particular parts of the country, and causing much more harm to those communities.”

Hancock said it was “absolutely on all of us” to come forward to accept the vaccine when it is offered. He told the Today programme: “We want to see that vaccine uptake go as high as possible. But it’s absolutely on all of us to come forward and get the vaccine. It’s the right thing to do.”

Hancock also said the effectiveness of vaccines against coronavirus variants would play a major part in the international travel review.

“If the vaccine doesn’t work against them, then that will be much, much more difficult,” he said in an interview on Sky News.