U.K. Minister Sees ‘Promising Signs’ England Lockdown Is Working

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There are “promising signs” that England’s lockdown is helping to bring coronavirus infection rates under control, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Ministers are drawing up plans for families in all parts of the U.K. to be able to meet up at Christmas, Hancock said, but he suggested people will still have to observe social distancing rules.

England has been under a four-week partial lockdown since Nov. 5, with pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops closed, although schools have remained open. Next week the government will set out proposals to replace the lockdown, which ends Dec. 2, with a regional tiered system which may see tighter restrictions in some areas than earlier in the fall.

The National Health Service is preparing for the roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccine, if approved, from December, Hancock said, but the program is not expected to get under way on a mass scale until next year. Winter flu vaccinations are also being made available to 30 million people in England, with all over-50s promised a free shot.

‘Some Hope

Hancock said ministers are talking with the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to draw up a common set of U.K.-wide rules for Christmas so people can travel to see family and friends.

“There are promising signs that we have seen a flattening of the number of cases since lockdown was brought in and that is good news, though clearly there is further to go,” Hancock told the BBC. “It has been such a terrible year and having some hope, some joy at Christmas, I know that would be welcomed by so many people.”

Later he told Times Radio that, although the rules may be relaxed at Christmas, “we must follow social distancing to keep the virus under control.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said ministers must look carefully at the data before making decisions on festive gatherings. “There is a real risk that in our desire to celebrate Christmas, we swap a few days of celebration for the misery of a full third wave a few weeks later,” he wrote in a blog published Friday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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