'Do not wreck this now', Van-Tam warns as some areas see rising Covid cases

26 February 2021, 17:31 | Updated: 26 February 2021, 18:10

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Rising Covid case rates in some parts of the UK are "not a good sign", Jonathan Van-Tam has warned as he told Brits: "Do not wreck this now."

His stern words came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that one in five local authority areas in England are seeing coronavirus infections rising despite the current lockdown measures.

The deputy chief medical officer for England and the secretary of state were talking alongside Dr Susan Hopkins, the senior medical adviser at Public Health England (PHE), at Friday's Downing Street press conference.

Professor Van-Tam presented to the briefing what he branded "quite sobering" slides that highlighted the rising number of case rates in some regions.

He said they revealed that there "were quite a few areas of the UK that are burning quite hot" in terms of infections, including in the Midlands and spreading up to the west coast of England.

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"Although it is generally good news, I'm afraid it is better news in some places than it is in others and this is not a battle that we have won yet," Prof Van-Tam said.

"In some parts of the UK, case rates are changing, albeit slowly, in the wrong direction.

"This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact that, I'm afraid, this battle at the moment is not won."

The professor used another helpful analogy, explaining that the UK's current situation is "like being 3-0 up in a game (of football) and thinking, 'We can't possibly lose this now' - but how many times have we seen the other side take it to 4-3?".

"Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. Just continue to maintain discipline and hang on just a few more months."

The deputy CMO also urged all those who had received their first dose of the vaccine to continue following the rules.

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Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned Brits not to wreck their efforts in fighting Covid
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned Brits not to wreck their efforts in fighting Covid. Picture: PA

He told the press briefing: "Much as it is encouraging and much as I am upbeat about vaccines and how they are going to change how we live and what the disease is like between now and the summer, there is a long way to go.

"And my inbox in the last week has been besieged with people writing in saying, I've had the vaccine, essentially can I now start to break the rules?

"Can I go and see my grandchildren and do X, Y and Z? And the answer to that is no.

"We are not yet collectively, as a country, in the right place."

Prof Van-Tam added: "All the patients that I vaccinate... I say to them, 'Remember, all the rules still apply to you and all of us until we're in a much safer place'. It doesn't change because you've had your first dose of vaccine.

"And so, please don't be tempted to think, 'Well, one home visit might be alright now the weather is getting better, gonna be a nice weekend - one small gathering in your house won't really matter'.

"I'm afraid it does and the data on the slides speak for themselves.

"So my key message tonight is, look, this is all going very well but there are some worrying signs that people are relaxing, taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time."

Mr Hancock said the "goal" is to ease restrictions nationally but added ministers do not rule out local action amid regional disparities.

The health secretary told the press conference: "We proposed to come out of the national lockdown all together. These regional disparities are smaller than we saw in the autumn.

"We don't rule out taking local action in an individual area as we see a spike. But the goal is for us all to come out together."

Dr Susan Hopkins said regional differences in case rates are due to differences in occupations.

The senior medical adviser told the briefing: "We are looking into detail at the differences in the regions. Some of the differences we see relate to the occupations and workplaces."

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