Matt Hancock has warned that further restrictions could be placed on the hospitality, leisure, entertainment and personal care sectors if coronavirus infection rates continue to climb.
But the Health Secretary insisted that shops, schools and universities ‘will remain open’.
Mr Hancock told MPs there is ‘direct and approximate evidence’ for the positive impact of the limits on pubs and bars, citing a fall in alcohol-related A&E admissions late at night. He insisted the Government’s desire to protect education and work meant they had to take measures against socialising to try to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Appearing in the Commons to move regulations to implement England’s new three tiers of restrictions, Mr Hancock said ‘we do not rule out’ further measures, before adding: ‘Retail, schools and universities will remain open.’
MPs were also warned they should have ‘no confidence’ of ever reaching herd immunity against the virus even if everyone caught it.
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The Health Secretary was challenged by Tory MP Huw Merriman on whether the scientific evidence on curfews shows the positives outweigh the negatives.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘We already now have evidence from accident and emergency departments that we’ve seen a reduction in alcohol-related admissions late at night after the 10pm curfew.
‘This is both important in its own right but it’s also a proxy as a measure of how much people are drinking late at night, and therefore is evidence there is less mixing and less drinking late at night.’
The Health Secretary added the Government also needs to reduce the amount of social contact to control the virus, explaining: ‘We’re trying to protect, as much as is possible, education and protect, as much as is possible, work, essentially that leaves socialising as the other part of life, of activity where people transmit the virus.
‘And so it is therefore understandable that governments around the world and around this United Kingdom, governments of all different political persuasions, have all come to broadly the same conclusion that it is necessary to restrict socialising because that way we reduce the transmission with the least damage to education and the economy.
‘So while there is both direct and approximate evidence for the positive impact of this measure, there is also the strategic point which is, if we want to control the virus and we weren’t to do this, we’d have to do something else and we want, as a matter of policy choice, to protect education and protect work.’
On herd immunity, Mr Hancock earlier told MPs: ‘Some have set out this more relaxed approach, including in the so-called Great Barrington declaration, and I want to take this argument head-on because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false.
‘First, it says that if enough people get Covid, we will reach herd immunity. This is not true.
‘Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, like measles and malaria and Aids and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to Covid even if everyone caught it.
‘Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we can’t. The second central claim is that we can segregate the old and the vulnerable on our way to herd immunity. This is simply not possible.’
He also dismissed suggestions that elderly and vulnerable people should be segregated while other parts of society are opened up.
The Health Secretary said: ‘We are not the kind of country that abandons our vulnerable or just locks them up.’
Tory former minister Mark Harper urged Mr Hancock to ensure more of the contact tracing is done by local directors of public health.
He noted: ‘My argument to the Secretary of State is can he look not just in high-risk areas, but in all areas, to get more of the contact tracing done by our fantastic directors of public health and their teams?’
What are the restrictions in each of the three Covid-19 Alert Levels?
Lockdown measures across England will from Wednesday be governed by three ‘Covid Alert Levels’ under plans set out by the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson said the new tier system will ‘simplify and standardise our local rules’ while seeking to suppress the virus’s spread.
The full details will become clearer when the Government publishes the regulations, but here is what we know so far on the new alert levels:
The ‘rule of six’ preventing most gatherings of more than six people indoors or outdoors, the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and other existing national measures will continue to apply.
The Prime Minister said this will cover most of the nation at the moment.
All mixing between households and support bubbles will be prohibited indoors.
But meetings of up to six people will be allowed outdoors in public spaces and private gardens.
The PM said ‘most areas’ already subject to local restrictions will be in this level but so will Nottinghamshire, East and West Cheshire and a ‘small area’ of High Peak due to rising infection rates.
– Very high:
Pubs and bars will be forced to close unless they can function as restaurants serving ‘substantial’ meals. Alcohol could be served as part of those meals.
People will be advised not to travel in and out of the areas and social mixing indoors and in private gardens will be banned at the minimum.
Groups of up to six people could still be permitted to meet outside in public spaces.
But additional restrictions will be imposed based on discussions with local leaders, including those that could cover the hospitality, leisure, entertainment and personal care sectors.
Schools, shops and universities will remain open.
The Liverpool City Region will move into this level and will have its gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos closed under agreement with mayor Steve Rotheram.
Mr Johnson said he was continuing to seek agreement with other leaders in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber.
For Labour, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said a ‘clear plan’ is now needed, as opposed to more soundbites from the Government.
He told the Commons: ‘What precise moment did the Prime Minister stop following the science? And indeed, I’m sorry to say, Sage advised the Government to take action in March, but the Prime Minister was too slow.
‘Now, after the Prime Minister spoke, we see yet again he is being advised to take action and has so far refused. But it’s the same virus, the same delays, the same country and the same government making the same mistakes again.
‘Our constituents will ask is history repeating itself? Because if these tiers don’t work, then what? Tier 4? Tier 5? What’s the plan? Well, there isn’t one. We had whack-a-mole, a fairground game but it was never a strategy.
‘It was just a soundbite from the circus ring showman. We’ve had exaggerated claims, complaints when challenged, a lack of transparency with the public but now further action and a clear plan is needed.’
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