'That's how you deal with it' Matt Hancock shuts down SNP's attack on UK Covid plans


Health Secretary Matt Hancock, making a statement to the Commons, said today was a “monumental” day for the UK as regulators approved the first coronavirus vaccine. But SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford criticised the Government’s decision to ramp up mass testing throughout the UK claiming it ought to look at improving its contact tracing operation first. The Scottish MP accused the Health Secretary of failing to address compliance on self-isolation from those who test positive to the virus. 

The SNP health spokeswoman said it is important that people stick to the rules, as it will take time before vaccination is widely available.

She said: “As chair of the All-Party Group on vaccination, I absolutely welcome the authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine and would echo (Jonathan Ashworth’s) call for a public health campaign to encourage uptake.

“It will naturally take some time before it’s widely available so we all still need to stick to the rules and ensure we can test, trace, isolate and support all those carrying the virus.”

But Mr Hancock hit back: “The Honourable Lady says I don’t talk about contact tracing very much. I was literally answering a question on contact tracing in the previous intervention.

“I talk of little else!”

He added: “She asks about scientific evaluation.

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“Absolutely, we’re constantly scientifically evaluating the work that’s going on especially in Liverpool.

“That’s one of the things that scientists who work as part of my team and who work in NHS test and trace and work in Public Health England do.

“It’s a matter of constant scientific evaluation. But what we won’t do is wait ages after something has finished to then do an overly long evaluation.

“What we have to do is evaluate as we go along and we have to do that because we’re constantly trying to improve the response to this pandemic.

“And we’re constantly trying to learn.

“I would urge her to support the approach of constant learning and constant improvement.

“We’re going to have to do that through the rollout of the vaccine too.

“She shakes her head but that’s how you have to deal with a pandemic in practice.”

The Health Secretary told MPs he was unsure how many people need to be vaccinated before restrictions can be lifted.

Replying to questions from shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, Mr Hancock told the Commons: “He then asks about when we’ll get to lift restrictions, and of course I understand not only why he but almost everybody in the country wants to know the answer to this question – how many people do you have to vaccinate before you can start lifting the restrictions?

“The answer to that is while we know that the vaccine protects you as an individual with a 95 percent efficacy, we do not know the impact of the vaccine on reducing the transmission because of the problem of asymptomatic transmission – which has so bedevilled our response to this virus and made it so hard to tackle.

“Therefore we don’t know the answer to that question.

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“What we will do is follow the same five indicators we were discussing at length yesterday, which are the indicators of the spread of the disease – we’ll look at the cases, the hospitalisations and, of course, the number of people who die with Covid.

“We would hope very much as we vaccinate more and more vulnerable people, we will see those rates come down and therefore we will be able to lift the restrictions. We will have to see how the vaccination programme impacts directly on the epidemic and then, of course, move as swiftly as we safely can to lift the restrictions that we all want to see gone.”

On how many people will be vaccinated by January, Mr Hancock told MPs: “While today brings more certainty, it doesn’t end all uncertainties – while we have 800,000 (doses) that have now passed the batch testing, the total number that will be manufactured over this timeframe is not yet known because it’s all dependent on a manufacturing process which is complicated itself.”

The Health Secretary said it is hoped testing can be used to allow people to do more things, adding: “If there are further examples that can be safely done with this sort of enablement of normal life through the use of testing that can be approved by a director of public health and by the chief medical officer and his team, then we are very enthusiastic in working with local areas to deliver that on the ground.”

He also told the Commons: “If the NHS phones you up or sends you a letter and says there is a vaccination slot open to you then just say yes.”


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