Hancock refuses to speed up lockdown roadmap despite 'herd immunity' claims

8 April 2021, 10:47 | Updated: 9 April 2021, 00:29

By Fiona Jones

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has dismissed modelling that suggests the UK could have 'herd immunity' as early as next Monday after being challenged on the 'slow' unlocking of the country by Nick Ferrari.

Mr Hancock's remarks come as data from a Covid tracking app found that there have been less than 2,000 new symptomatic infections of the virus per day last week.

Data from the ZOE symptom study app and King’s College London shows that in the last week, 1,924 people were being infected between March 20 and April 3, down by more than half in a week.

Separate ONS data released today shows that the number of weekly coronavirus deaths in England and Wales has fallen by 92 per cent from the second wave peak roughly two months ago.

And according to University College London modelling, Britain will achieve herd immunity on Monday 12 April.

The threshold for herd immunity will be passed on 12 April, according to the modelling, as the number of people with Covid protection either through vaccination or previous infection will hit 73.4%.

But Mr Hancock dismissed this data when he was challenged this morning, with Nick asking him why the Government's roadmap is "moving at such a slow pace" with this in mind, questioning the need for social distancing and the rollout of two Covid tests per week.

Mr Hancock dismissed the herd immunity report: "I was told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May, and then in June, and then after that."

"These reports are exaggerated in your view?" Nick asked.

The Health Secretary responded, "What I prefer to do is watch the data. We've set out the roadmap, the roadmap is really clear, it's our route back to normal. We're on track to meet the roadmap and that is our goal."

Read more: Hancock: Under 30s who have had one AZ jab should take the second one

Read more: Life almost back to normal by July in Boris Johnson's 'roadmap' to freedom

Nick questioned why the Cabinet "does not accept modelling from University College London" but does "from the Imperial College London."

"Can I put it to you that they tell the message that you want and the others don't tell the message you want and so you ignore it?"

Mr Hancock said that the Imperial study out this morning, which finds the prevalence of Covid-19 cases in England fell by around 60% from February to March, "was not on modelling."

He continued: "I think we have taken the right course in plotting our way to freedom and doing it carefully because we want it to be irreversible. We have seen what happens when this virus gets going, and we're seeing it getting going right now on the continent.

"We want to get out of this safely and irreversibly, and that is why we set out the roadmap."

From Monday 12 April, the next stage of the country's unlocking will be launched. Measures include:

  • Non-essential retail to open
  • Outdoor hospitality can reopen
  • Gyms and indoor leisure open for individual use
  • Hairdressers and personal care services can reopen
  • Outdoor attractions such as zoos, drive-thru cinemas and theme parks can reopen.
  • Driving lessons can reopen
  • Funeral wakes, weddings and receptions can have up to 15 people

The ZOE app shows that in the last week 1,924 people were being infected between March 20 and April 3, down by more than half in a week.

Since January, infections have come down by 98 per cent, after reaching a peak of 69,000 per day at the start of the year.

The leader of the study, Professor Tim Spector, said: "According to the latest data, daily new cases of Covid have more than halved over a seven day period, with cases now below 2,000.

"These figures are among the lowest in Europe. Admissions and deaths are also continuing to decline, putting the UK in a similar place to July last year.

"It’s unlikely that cases will continue to fall at this pace, but with the vaccinations programme and the weather improving, it’s likely they will remain low."

Separate figures released today show a drop of a quarter week-on-week in the number of deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The ONS said a total of 719 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending March 26 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate - the lowest number since the week ending October 16.

The figure is down 25% on the previous week's total.

Around one in 14 (7.2%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to March 26 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

The number of deaths registered in England and Wales was below the five-year average for the third consecutive week, the ONS said.

Some 10,045 deaths were registered in the week to March 26, 5.0% below the average for the corresponding period in 2015-19.

Prior to the three most recent weeks, the last time deaths had been below average was in the week to September 4 2020.