As Matt Hancock says he’s ‘open’ to Freedom Day delay, Tory MPs urge the Cabinet not to push back


Tory MPs reacted with fury last night after Matt Hancock said he was ‘absolutely open’ to delaying Freedom Day.

The Health Secretary refused to rule out keeping face masks and home working beyond June 21, when the Government had hoped to remove all legal limits on social contact.

Mr Hancock said the unlocking could be pushed back if the data called for it – amid suggestions there could be a two-week delay. But his downbeat comments triggered anger among senior backbenchers.

Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne said ministers were ‘wasting the advantages afforded by the success of vaccinations’.

He added: ‘The original mission statement was to save lives by protecting the NHS. We’ve done that.

‘The more it moves the goalposts, the more people will be made redundant.’

The Daily Telegraph today reported that measures including face masks, social distancing and working from home were likely to remain in place past June 21 due to lingering concern over the Indian variant.

The Health Secretary refused to rule out keeping face masks and home working beyond June 21, when the Government had hoped to remove all legal limits on social contact

In other developments:

  • Adults under the age of 30 will be invited to book their coronavirus vaccine appointment from this week;
  • An NHS chief said patients being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 were now younger, got less sick and went home sooner; 
  • It emerged that ministers downgraded Portugal from the green travel list to amber after just 1.5 per cent of arrivals from the country tested positive for Covid;
  • Tony Blair said fully-vaccinated Britons should be given more freedom to travel abroad in a bid to boost the jabs take-up; 
  • Figures showed that thousands of separated and divorced parents have lost contact with their children because of the pandemic’s impact on the courts; 
  • Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said there were ‘strong suggestions’ that Covid-19 leaked from a laboratory in China; 
  • People looking for love online will be able to see if their potential match has been vaccinated in a government bid to increase uptake of the jab. 
Adults under the age of 30 will be invited to book their coronavirus vaccine appointment from this week

Adults under the age of 30 will be invited to book their coronavirus vaccine appointment from this week

Tony Blair said fully-vaccinated Britons should be given more freedom to travel abroad in a bid to boost the jabs take-up

Tony Blair said fully-vaccinated Britons should be given more freedom to travel abroad in a bid to boost the jabs take-up

Former Tory Cabinet minister David Jones said last night: ‘Matt Hancock has acknowledged that most people in hospital [with Covid-19] have not been vaccinated.

‘The answer is therefore to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible.

‘It is not to delay the lifting of lockdown, with the attendant damage to people’s mental and physical wellbeing and to the economy.’ 

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers called on the Government to ‘give us as much freedom as possible’ – with priority given to weddings, events and hospitality.

She said that while ‘most people’ could live with face coverings and some travel restrictions, ‘we’ve got to allow the hospitality business to open up again fully’.

Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (pictured) said there was 'increasing frustration' among his colleagues over the restrictions

Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (pictured) said there was ‘increasing frustration’ among his colleagues over the restrictions

Tony Blair said fully-vaccinated Britons should be given more freedom to travel abroad in a bid to boost the jabs take-up

Tony Blair said fully-vaccinated Britons should be given more freedom to travel abroad in a bid to boost the jabs take-up

Children aged 12 and over could receive doses in August

Ministers are making plans to vaccinate children aged 12 and over as early as August, the Daily Mail understands.

The Government’s key advisory group on vaccines will advise in the coming weeks on how to proceed with the rollout. But plans are afoot to give jabs to secondary school pupils before the end of the summer holidays if it is recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Last week the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in those aged 12-15.

Yesterday Matt Hancock said there were ‘plenty of good reasons’ for inoculating children, despite it being ‘very rare’ that young people are ‘very negatively’ affected by the virus.

The Health Secretary told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme: ‘The spread among children does have an impact on others and, critically, we know how much it disrupts education as well. There is this problem of long Covid in some children who test positive.

‘So, there are plenty of good reasons to do this but we will also want to be very careful and listen to the scientific advice on exactly what approach to take.’

Mr Hancock also confirmed that adults under the age of 30 will be invited to book their vaccine appointment from this week. The Government has set a target for every adult in the UK to be offered a first dose by the end of July, and expects all adults over 50 to have been offered two doses by June 21.

Mr Hancock said the vaccines had ‘severed but not broken’ the link between a rise in cases and an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital. He said: ‘The majority of people going into hospital right now are unvaccinated.’

The Royal College of General Practitioners said that in some areas, GPs have already vaccinated all those eligible and so have already moved to the under-30s cohort.

The news comes as people who have been contacted to bring forward their second vaccine appointment are being urged to rebook as soon as possible, in a bid to combat the spread of the Indian strain.

The JCVI recommended in May that the second dose interval should be reduced from 12 weeks to eight for those aged 50 and over, as well as the clinically vulnerable.

More than 40million people across the UK have so far had a first jab.

Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said there was ‘increasing frustration’ among his colleagues over the restrictions.

He added: ‘We’ve got to be really, really careful about getting panicked about every variant that comes along until we are absolutely sure there is one that is going to defeat the vaccine.’

The MPs’ warnings were echoed by UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, who said the ‘ongoing uncertainty’ was causing ‘significant distress’ to the sector, especially as ‘healthcare data does not indicate a need for deviation’.

The evidence ‘demonstrates that the vaccination programme is working and breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths’, she said. 

‘It is crucial that the Government commits to dropping the restrictions on June 21.

Any delay in the roadmap would have a devastating effect on an already fragile sector.’

The wedding industry is also desperately seeking clarity on whether the 30-person cap on guests will be removed this month.

UK Weddings Taskforce spokesman Sarah Haywood said: ‘It is unacceptable to just say we have to wait because an industry like ours doesn’t have a seven-day ramp-up window – it’s much longer than that.’

While UK cases have been rising in recent weeks, fuelled by the Indian variant, hospital admissions have remained flat.

Official data shows that Britons who have received two vaccine doses make up less than 5 per cent of those hospitalised with the new strain.

And around two-thirds of people attending A&E with the variant do not even need to spend the night in hospital.

Another 5,341 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK yesterday and a further four deaths were announced, down from six a week earlier.

Mr Hancock was asked yesterday whether the removal of restrictions on June 21 could be postponed if data on the Indian variant worsens.

‘We are absolutely open to doing that if that’s what needs to happen,’ he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.

‘We said in the roadmap that June 21 is the date by which we would not take step four before that date and that we would look at the data. That is exactly what we are doing.’

Asked if the wearing of face coverings and work-from-home measures could continue in the long-term, the Health Secretary added: ‘Yes, I wouldn’t rule that out.’

Ministers will assess data this week ahead of an announcement, expected next Monday, on whether to proceed with the unlocking the following week.

Labour yesterday signalled it could support some restrictions remaining in place.

Education spokesman Kate Green said: ‘If we have to maintain some protective measures beyond June 21, that is what the Government should do, but I think it is really important that it’s a decision taken on the basis of the data.’

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Munira Wilson urged ministers to ‘remain cautious, especially given rising case numbers, and to follow the evidence before making a final decision about opening up’. 

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