Matt Hancock: UK will beat Indian variant with jabs

Coronavirus 'unlikely to have occurred naturally' says expert

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Matt Hancock revealed tests have suggested that the jabs are effective against the latest virulent strain of the virus. He declared: “Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.” The new sign of jabs success came as people set foot inside pubs and restaurants, hugged their relatives and jetted off on holiday in the latest stage on the road to freedom. Despite cases of the Indian variant doubling to 2,323 in the last week, Mr Hancock sought to reassure Britons hoping for a full end to Covid curbs on June 21 by saying there was strong protection from inoculations.

He told MPs most people in hospital during the surge had not been vaccinated, despite being eligible for jabs.

He said: “While we also don’t have the complete picture on the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the evidence from Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against this variant.”

First jab invitations for those aged 37 are expected to go out today as the race against the new strain speeds up.

Downing Street said enthusiasm for getting a shot has increased as the rollout gathered pace, but the Indian variant could delay a review of social distancing measures set for the end of this month.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We want to do it as soon as possible but need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India.

“We want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare.”

Mr Hancock said there were now fewer than 1,000 patients in hospital with Covid and the average daily death rate from the disease had fallen to nine.

But concern is growing about the Indian variant. Eighty-six areas including Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford recorded five or more cases of the strain.

Mr Hancock added: “In Blackburn, hospitalisations are stable with eight people in hospital with Covid and in Bolton 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus – the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven’t yet had a vaccine.

“This shows the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older, vaccinated groups and it underlines again the importance of getting the jab.”

He said data suggested the Indian variant was more transmissible than previous strains in the UK and said taking up the offer of a vaccine will help everyone out of the pandemic. Repeating his vaccine plea, Mr Hancock said: “To anyone who feels hesitant, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab.

“The data suggests that the vaccine has already saved over 12,000 lives and prevented over 33,000 people from being hospitalised.”

Mr Hancock said 36 million people had now had a first shot and yesterday the UK reached the milestone of 20 million people having had their second dose.

He declared himself “delighted” by a YouGov poll published yesterday, showing the UK had the highest immunisation enthusiasm in the world.

Ninety percent of people told researchers they have had or will have the jab.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Bookings for the fastest and most successful NHS vaccination programme in history continue to surge with more than 930,000 appointments made in a matter of days since opening up to 38 and 39 year olds.

“People aged 50 and over and the clinically vulnerable are having their second doses brought forward to counter the spread of the Indian variant.

“Nobody needs to contact the NHS. You will be told how to rebook if you need to.”

He added: “Getting vaccinated is the most important step we can take to protect ourselves, our families and our communities against Covid-19.

“So when it is your turn to get your first or second dose, please do so.” A further five people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid as of yesterday, taking the UK total to 127,684.

In a separate statement released by the Department of Health and Social Care, Mr Hancock said: “With infections nationwide remaining low and over half of the adult population now vaccinated, we are able to take the next step out of lockdown and get back to the things we love doing.

“But with the presence of variants in the UK and around the world, Covid-19 remains a very real threat, so we must stay vigilant.

“I urge you to exercise caution when meeting up with friends and family and to keep a safe distance from others.”

He added: “Remember meeting people outside is always safer, and when meeting indoors make sure you let in fresh air by opening a window or door.

“These are small changes we can all make in our daily lives that will have a huge impact on stopping the virus from spreading.”

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