Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning insisted the Government must take a “cautious” approach to easing lockdown restrictions despite an accelerated target to offer coronavirus vaccines to all adults by the end of July, as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his road map for easing measures tomorrow.
But South Yorkshire metro mayor and Labour MP for Barnsley Central, Dan Jarvis, said the PM’s plan could be scuppered and would damage the North if it did not include more economic support for jobs and businesses.
Mr Jarvis warned of a situation where parts of the country able to reunite with their families freely and their economies opened up, while others languished in tighter restrictions with workers and businesses facing a fight for survival.
Instead, he the country should exit national lockdown together, cautiously and gradually, with health and economic measures working hand in hand.
It has been reported that Mr Johnson is unlikely to reintroduce regional tiers for coronavirus restrictions, but is eager that this lockdown is the last, ushering in a cautious approach to lifting it.
Mr Jarvis said: “Covid is causing unprecedented upheaval, choking-off life opportunities and tearing the heart and soul out of communities across the North. Unless the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown includes the necessary urgent measures for economic and social renewal, then all we’ll see is a deeply divided recovery that further entrenches the inequalities that have held our country back for too long.
“Past mistakes tell us we should not hastily abandon the restrictions and sacrifices that have saved lives and protected the NHS. They also show that without health and economic support working hand in glove, we’ll not only struggle get to the virus under control, but leave workers and businesses feeling abandoned.”
He said in parts of South Yorkshire only a third of people can work from home, and he added: “If the Prime Minister and Chancellor do not get this right, South Yorkshire and the North will be further levelled down for the long-term. They must put us on the right course at the Budget.”
Mr Hancock told Sky News this morning that while “all of us understandably want to get back to normal”, it is “right to be cautious – it is incredibly important”.
“The vaccination programme, whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we need to get the second jab to everybody,” he said.
“We’ve got time that needs to be taken to get this right. The Prime Minister will set out the road map tomorrow and he will set out the full details – taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.”
He went on: “Whilst we want to set out a road map which gives people guidance in terms of how we think we will be able to do this, we also absolutely will be vigilant to the data on the way.
“We have seen throughout this pandemic that there have been moments when things haven’t got as we expected – for instance, when the new variant was first discovered in Kent.”
Mr Hancock also said the Government believed it had the vaccine supplies to meet the new target of offering all adults a jab by the end of July.
The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of senior ministers today, known as the “Covid S” committee, to finalise his road map before it is signed off by the Cabinet on Monday.
He will then unveil the plans to MPs in the Commons later that afternoon and is expected to lead a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening.
Labour welcomed the accelerated vaccine target but called on the Government to “urgently” set out how they will prioritise those aged under 50.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s perfectly reasonable for teachers, police officers and other key workers who haven’t been able to stay at home in the lockdown to ask when their turn will be.
“If Government aren’t going to prioritise by occupation in the next phase, they need to set out why.
“Vaccination must go hand-in-hand with measures to break transmission chains. That means paying people decent financial support to isolate, updating face coverings guidance and insisting in ventilation standards to ensure all workplaces are Covid secure.”
Downing Street said the JCVI would publish its priority list for the second phase of the vaccine programme in due course.