Matt Hancock denied a surge in Covid cases is inevitable over autumn and winter after being asked to rule out the return of lockdown restrictions later in the year.

The health secretary admitted ‘eradication of this virus is impossible’, but said the country ‘must learn to live our normal lives with it’ as he was questioned in the Commons today.

His remarks came after Boris Johnson delayed Freedom Day by four weeks, warning ‘thousands of deaths’ could happen if June 21 went ahead.

Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, asked Mr Hancock to confirm that July 19 is a ‘terminus date’.

He said: ‘Can he rule out bringing back restrictions in the autumn and winter when we see a rise, an inevitable rise, in what is a respiratory virus?’

The Tory politician replied: ‘Well, it isn’t inevitable, I don’t think it’s inevitable. It may happen but it’s not inevitable because we also have the planned booster programme to strengthen further the vaccination response.

‘But it is absolutely clear, based on all the clinical advice that I’ve seen, that a goal of eradication of this virus is impossible.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘We must learn to live with this virus and we must learn how we can live our normal lives with this virus so I reflect the Prime Minister’s words, which I of course concur with entirely on July 19.’

Ministers were criticised by Jeremy Hunt tonight for using irresponsible language when it comes to lockdown easing.

The Tory former health secretary warned ministers could regret using words like ‘irreversible’ if a ‘vaccine busting’ Covid mutant emerged in future.

He said: ‘We have a duty to be completely honest with people about the bumpiness of the road ahead.’

Meanwhile, another MP said forcing businesses to stay closed for an extended period without a similar extension of support would be ‘unjust, unconscionable and unsupportable’.

Sir Robert Neill, Tory MP for Bromley and Chislehurst warned a few weeks ‘makes the difference between survival or closure for some businesses’.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, has described the four-week delay as ‘devastating’, adding that it is going to be ‘incredibly challenging’ for many businesses to survive.

Boris Johnson was blasted by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle on Monday over the ‘entirely unacceptable’ decision to announce the Freedom Day delay to the media before ministers.

Mr Hoyle said he had forced Mr Hancock to come to the chamber and answer questions after being told the gathering was happening on Tuesday.

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