Lockdown easing to go ahead - but Hancock won't rule out reversal

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, speaking exclusively to the E

Health secretary Matt Hancock said it was appropriate to go ahead with the lockdown easing. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

People across Norfolk and Waveney can still look forward to a greater degree of freedom as lockdown restrictions are eased on Monday, despite fears over the Indian variant of Covid-19. 

But speaking on Sunday morning television, health secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out that the easing of restrictions tomorrow may have to be reversed if the Indian variant proved to be highly transmissible.

Mr Hancock said it was "appropriate" to go ahead with the easing, but also said the onus for controlling the virus was shifting towards individuals, rather than the government.

He said: “There will be almost no impact on our road map and the future number of cases. And we just don’t know, so that’s why it’s appropriate to continue down the road map but people need to be cautious and careful.

“And anyway we’re moving the balance more towards people taking personal responsibility and trying to get away from some of the more intrusive ones that we’ve had to have in place.”

Mr Hancock said there was a “high degree of confidence” that the current vaccines worked against the Indian variant of coronavirus.

60pc of the adult population in Norfolk and Waveney have received their first dose of the coronaviru

There is confidence the vaccines will work against the Indian variant of Covid. - Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Back to local lockdowns? 

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Mr Hancock also said we could see the return of 'local lockdowns' with the government already considering stronger measures for Bolton and Blackburn, which have seen a recent spike in infections. 

He said: "The approach we’re taking in Bolton and Blackburn is to absolutely pile in testing and vaccinations to try to get on top of this.

“When we had an outbreak of the South African variant in south London last month we put in a huge amount, hundreds of thousands of tests in surge testing – people came forward in their droves across Southwark and Lambeth and Wandsworth, and we got that under control.”

"We’re taking the same approach in Bolton and Blackburn, we’ve put in a huge amount of testing, we’ve reinforced that with Army personnel as well, and we’re expanding the vaccination programme – especially for those second jabs which are the best protection against ending up in hospital.

"Given though Bolton has been in some form of kind of a lockdown for a year, it’s not a step we want to take but of course we might have to take it and we will if it’s necessary to protect people.”

Mr Hancock said there would be a “very, very large number of cases” if the Indian variant “gets out of hand”.

“We do need to make sure we don’t get that explosion in cases, so we need to be cautious, we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant," he said.

He said a final decision on 'step four' of the roadmap - the end of social distancing and the resumption of large events - would not be made until June 14.

Norwich City's Kenny McLean celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier

Full football stadiums and other large vents could return in June - but a final decision won't be made until June 14. - Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

May 17 lockdown easing: What's changing?

Alongside indoor drinking and dining being allowed for pubs and restaurants, entertainment venues can open too, including cinemas and theatres. New rules will be in place for different sizes of venues.

Normal outdoor events can open for up to 4,000 people or 50pc of the venue capacity, whichever is smaller. 

Indoor events can open for up to 1,000 people or 50pc capacity, again whichever is lower.

See here for full details of the changes to the rules on May 17.