Health Sec Won’t Rule out Continuation of Mask Mandate After June 21st
Health Secretary Matt Hancock would not rule out the mask mandate or work-from-home recommendations continuing past June 21st, the government’s proposed end of Chinese coronavirus restrictions.
To date, some three-quarters of adults across the UK have had at least one dose of a vaccine, with half of the adults in England having had both. Official figures also revealed there had been no COVID-19 deaths on June 1st, the first time there had been zero virus-related fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, when asked specifically on the ending of the mask mandate and home working, Health Secretary Hancock would not rule out the measures still being in place at the end of this month.
The health secretary told a press conference at the Jenner Institute in Oxford on Wednesday, according to the Evening Standard: “There is nothing in the data to suggest we are definitively off track but it is too early to make the decision about June 21, step four in the road map.”
Adding: “We’ll make that decision based on more data in the next week to 10 days, ahead of June 14, as we’ve set out.”
The comments come amidst calls for the end of lockdown to be delayed in the face of rising cases of the Indian variant. Professor Ravindra Gupta of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said earlier this week that the June 21 date should be delayed “by a few weeks” or else lifting on schedule could trigger a “third wave”.
Lockdown sceptic and former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith criticised what he called “obsessed” scientists he said were staging a “coordinated” effort to delay the end of restrictions.
“It seems like an organised push by a group of scientists to stop June the 21st,” Mr Duncan Smith said on Tuesday, adding: “What we have got now is a bunch of scientists obsessed, obsessed with one single issue to the detriment of absolutely everything else.”
“There are going to be new variants for the rest of our lives and beyond. Flu has a new variant or two every year. This is the ridiculous notion that somehow we go to zero COVID, and we are okay for the rest of our lives. That will not happen,” he said.
One scientist advising the government said that the country cannot “scamper down a rabbit hole” every time a new variant emerges. Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, who works on the government’s vaccine task force, said: “I do think we need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths which is really what we are trying to manage.”
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Sir John added: “If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away so we do need to keep a bit of balance to the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease that we are trying to prevent.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the virus data was too “ambiguous” for him to confirm yet whether reopening would happen as scheduled, telling reporters: “I can see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step four, or the opening up on June 21st, but we’ve got to be so cautious.”
Prime Minister Johnson continued: “What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable against a new surge, and there I’m afraid the data is just still ambiguous.”