Hancock Blames Young People for ‘Concerning’ U.K. Covid Rise

Health Secretary Matt Hancock blamed a recent spike in coronavirus cases on young people flouting social-distancing rules, warning the U.K. risks following European countries experiencing a new wave of infections.

“We’re very worried about it,” Hancock said during an LBC radio phone-in on Monday when asked about the prospects of a coronavirus resurgence.

Rising hospitalization rates in France and Spain show people can’t afford to relax, he said, even though under-25s -- who are less at risk from the disease -- are “largely” responsible for the surge of U.K. cases. “The problem is that spreading the disease among young people leads to older people getting it,” he said, calling the trend “concerning.”

Avoiding a wave of infections that could trigger a new national lockdown is critical to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to kickstart the economy, with ministers reiterating that shutting down again must be a last resort. But while Hancock said the prospect of a vaccine roll-out before the end of the year is “looking up,” the “most likely” scenario is early next year, meaning that people must continue to obey social-distancing rules to reduce transmissions.

“We certainly see cases where they are not, and then we take action,” he said.

Cases Jump

Hancock’s comments come after the U.K. reported 2,988 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, a 64% jump from the previous day and the highest level since May 22. That was despite the number typically dipping on the weekends when reporting is more limited -- the daily average was about 1,600 last week.

The numbers risk undermining the government’s push to encourage people back to their workplaces after schools reopened across England last week. Ministers are trying to chart a course that gets the economy moving while keeping infection rates under control.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Monday the government wants to avoid a second national lockdown “at all costs” -- but wouldn’t rule one out.

“What we’ve developed since the original lockdown is much more targeted local lockdowns,” Eustice told Sky News. “The idea of going into a total national lockdown again is something we don’t want to do. The impacts on our economy are significant.”

Pressure

The government is also facing pressure from the travel industry and even some Conservative MPs to use Covid-19 testing at airports to reduce the quarantine time for travelers. The aviation industry blames the requirement for travelers from certain countries -- including major markets such as the U.S. -- to self-isolate for 14 days for squashing demand.

Hancock said he’s working on trying to reduce the quarantine period “as soon as it’s practical” but said it has to be “done in a way that keeps people safe.”

On the prospects for a vaccine, Hancock said AstraZeneca -- which is working with Oxford University -- is already manufacturing doses to enable a rapid roll-out when it’s approved by regulators.

“The best-case scenario is that happens this year,” Hancock said. “I think more likely is the early part of next year -- in the first few months of next year is the most likely.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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