'Freedom Day' officially delayed as MPs approve extension of Covid measures

16 June 2021, 16:09 | Updated: 16 June 2021, 19:58

MPs have voted in favour of officially delaying 'Freedom Day'
MPs have voted in favour of officially delaying 'Freedom Day'. Picture: PA
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

'Freedom Day' has been officially delayed after MPs voted 461 to 60 to approve the extension of Covid restrictions to 19 July.

It comes after Matt Hancock earlier said he was "confident" there will not be another delay to the easing of coronavirus restrictions beyond the date.

Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that so-called Freedom Day in England was to be delayed by four weeks amid the spread of the Delta, or Indian, variant.

The Health Secretary was asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday about the phrase "terminus", used by the Prime Minister to described the new date.

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Conservative MP Steve Brine said: "I think our constituents want to know what does 19th July mean that 21st June did not?"

Mr Hancock replied: "Yes, I would characterise it that way and what I'd say is that our goal ahead of the 19th July is to take step four and, on the basis of the evidence so far, I am confident that we will not need more than the four weeks to get this job done and to take step four."

He also confirmed care home staff will soon be required to have a Covid-19 vaccine, saying it was a necessary move to "protect residents" from those looking after them who could be infected with the virus.

The plan is for vaccines to be compulsory from October but the new rules must be approved by Parliament.

Mr Hancock told MPs: "After careful consultation, we've decided to take this proposal forward to protect residents. Now, the vast majority of staff in care homes are already vaccinated but not all, and we know that the vaccine not only protects you but protect others round you.

"Therefore, we will be taking forward the measures to ensure the mandation as a condition of deployment for staff in care homes."

Mr Hancock also confirmed a consultation to make vaccination for NHS staff mandatory.

"We will consult on the same approach in the NHS in order to save lives and protect patients from disease," he said.

Reacting to the announcement, Conservative former minister Steve Baker suggested carers should have a right to choose between the vaccine or daily lateral flow tests, but Mr Hancock insisted it was a "matter of risk" and that the vaccine was best placed to reduce the risk "very significantly".

He added: "The principle of vaccination for those in a caring responsibility is already embedded and indeed there is a history going back more than a century of vaccination being required in certain circumstances, and I think these are reasonable circumstances.

"So, we will go ahead for those who work in care homes."

From October, and subject to parliamentary approval and a 16-week grace period, people working in a Care Quality Commission (CQC)-registered care home in England must have two doses of a coronavirus vaccine unless they have a medical exemption, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The requirement will apply to all workers employed directly by the care home or care home provider, those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers deployed in the care home, the department added.

Others coming into care homes to work, such as tradespeople, hairdressers, beauticians and CQC inspectors, must also follow the regulations, unless they have a medical exemption.

Care leaders have previously expressed concerns mandatory vaccinations could put people off working in the sector and others already in jobs could leave as a result.

There will be exceptions to the requirement to have had a coronavirus jab for family and friends visiting care homes, under-18s, emergency services and people undertaking urgent maintenance work, the DHSC said.

The consultation on making vaccines compulsory for staff garnered more than 13,500 responses which were "comprehensively analysed and carefully considered", the department added.

When it comes to NHS workers, it said a further public consultation will be launched "in due course" on whether or not to make Covid-19 and flu vaccination a condition of deployment in health and care settings.

The department acknowledged it is a complex issue and said the Government is looking for a wide range of perspectives.