As Christmas cheer across the country was crushed by Boris Johnson’s Saturday announcement, the show’s guests discussed the reasons for the policy change as well as the mutation of the coronavirus.
With such a busy weekend of news, the five points have been extended to six.
The show will be taking a two-week break over Christmas and New Year, with Sophy Ridge on Sunday returning on 10 January.
1) ‘A duty to act’
At the end of what the health secretary called “an incredibly difficult year”, it feels grimly fitting that something more could go wrong. The new strain of COVID-19 was an “awful end” to the year and it was “out of control”, Matt Hancock told the show, adding the government had a “duty to act” and “we don’t want to do any of this but it’s necessary”.
He said the only way to get the virus under control was “by restricting social contact,” revealing: “I had to call my mum last night and say we’re not going to see each other over Christmas.”
The new Tier 4 won’t be a short-term condition either, as Mr Hancock said there would be a “difficult few months” between now and the vaccine rollout and “given how much faster this new variant spreads, it is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out”.
2) New strain
“All the different measures that we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant,” said Mr Hancock, warning it was “the fundamental problem”.
A 70% more infectious strain of an already highly infectious virus reportedly raises the all-important reproduction rate by 0.4 on its own.
One piece of good news came from Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England, who said there weren’t any indicators to show the new strain increased mortality, and that vaccines should still work as they are designed to produce “a broad immune response”.
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As countries weigh up bans on flights from the UK, Dr Hopkins said the mutated version had been detected in “every region” of England and in Wales and Scotland, though only in “very small numbers”.
Similar strains had been found in Denmark and Australia, while “variants that look very similar to this…have been detected in South Africa and the Netherlands and other countries”.
The surge in infections despite restrictions was addressed by Edinburgh University’s Devi Sridhar, who said the UK needed to “pivot away from the flu model, which is accepting this is a seasonal infection which is endemic, to more of the SARS model, where you try to keep the numbers as low as possible and use testing, vaccines, treatments to keep a handle on it”.
Professor Sridhar warned the virus was simply “too infectious” for low restrictions – a calculation the government also appears to have made.
3) ‘We can’t continue like this’
“I’m angry, to be honest,” said Labour’s Lisa Nandy when asked for her thoughts.
Labour may back the new measures, but the shadow foreign secretary attacked Boris Johnson for “dithers and delays” and for having “mocked and ridiculed” those concerned at rising cases, before “having to change his mind at the eleventh hour”.
“This is how a country that has scientists and a healthcare system that is the envy of the world, ends up with the worst number of deaths in Europe and the worst recession of any major economy. We just cannot continue like this,” she said.
While the government may shrug off the criticism from an opposition figure, the public seems to have made up its mind. New YouGov polling shows wide support for new measures, but 61% of people now think Christmas restrictions have been handled badly.
4) Planning to reopen schools
One possible counter to the surge in the R rate would be closing schools, something the health secretary failed to rule out.
Asked if the idea was on the cards, Mr Hancock said his education counterpart Gavin Williamson had “set out how we’re planning to reopen schools, using testing to reduce the spread”.
When pressed on the subject, he said “we’ve got plans to keep the schools open [in a way] that can stop them from transmitting the virus by using very extensive testing”.
Lisa Nandy made her position clear, saying schools “should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open”. She warned that a failure to keep children in education could mean “we’ll be living with the consequences…for generations”.
5) ‘Totally irresponsible’
People fleeing London ahead of the Tier 4 restrictions displayed “totally irresponsible behaviour,” Mr Hancock said.
“It is more important than ever that people are responsible” said the health secretary, calling on people to “not only stick to the rules but even within the rules, restrict social contact as much as is possible because this is deadly serious”.
After chief medical officer Chris Whitty asked people with a bag ready to leave to “please unpack it” during last night’s press conference, the government will be hoping to avoid similar scenes today.
Quite apart from undermining restrictions, the idea of Londoners seeding a highly infectious new version of the virus across the country will be particularly concerning.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said six in 10 Londoners with the virus had the new strain and that the capital’s hospitals had as many coronavirus patients as during the peak in April.
The warning about capacity was echoed by the British Medical Association’s council chair, Chaand Nagpaul, who said that doctors were not only seeing “a massive surge in COVID cases, one in three saying even more than during the first wave, but also a massive surge in non-COVID patients”.
6) We are vaccinating more and more people
“As of eight o’clock yesterday morning, 350,000 people have been vaccinated,” the health secretary said, with plans for “something around the half a million mark” to receive jabs by the end of the weekend.
With vaccinations now explicitly the way out of the Tier 4 restrictions, Mr Hancock said there was a “significant acceleration” in vaccination plans and “we now have over 400 sites that are vaccinating, whereas at the start of last week we only had 100”.
The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine is still being assessed by the medical regulator, but the hoped-for vaccination timetable would see the 10 million most vulnerable among us vaccinated by the end of April.
The question of what proportion of us need to receive the vaccine before restrictions relax is a live one, with answers expected as more and more people receive it.
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