Speaking at today’s Covid press conference, the health secretary said that while the overall number of hospitalisations and death from Covid remain low, “we must proceed with vigilance and everyone taking personal responsibility”.
Matt Hancock appeared at the conference alongside Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam and chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries.
New variant is more transmissible
Hancock said that seven out of 10 adults in the UK has now received a first dose of the vaccine, and almost four in ten have had both doses, though he urged those still unvaccinated to engage with the process, saying: “If you get the call, get the jab”.
The health secretary stressed that while early evidence suggests vaccines are effective against the new variant, it also appears to be more transmissible.
He said: “We’ve always known that one of the things that has the potential to knock us off track would be a new variant.
“That’s why we made the presence of the new variant that could do that one of our four tests when we set out the roadmap.
"The early evidence suggests that the new variant passes on more easily person to person than the Kent variant, but as the prime minister said at lunchtime, we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against it.”
This means, said Hancock, that it is now “even more important that people get vaccinated”.
There are now 2967 known cases of the Indian variant in the UK, and the government is “throwing everything at it” in Bolton, said Hancock, where the virus is most prevalent and the case-rate has doubled in the past week.
He announced that surge testing and increased vaccinations efforts are underway in Bolton already, and will also begin in the following areas in England, based on new data from the UK’s biosecurity surveillance system:
Bedford Burnley Leicester Kirklees North Tyneside Hounslow, London
Booster jab trial
Hancock also announced a major new trial to look at the use of current vaccines as boosters.
The trial will be the first in the world to look at the potential use of existing vaccines to act as booster jabs, specifically to combat winter surges of the virus.
The health secretary said people can sign up to be part of the trial, by signing up online at www.CovBoost.org.uk.
He also stressed the UK’s commitment to helping the global vaccination effort, both in terms of direct funding and through the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said: “This vaccination programme is a vaccination programme for the world, using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s something that every British taxpayer has had a part in support and everyone in this United Kingdom should be incredibly proud of it.”