United Kingdom

Matt Hancock warns hug 'carefully': Brits are urged to be cautious as country unlocks tomorrow

Matt Hancock today warned people to 'be careful' when hugging others on Monday, as England prepares to finally unlock from Covid lockdown.

Theatres, cinemas and art galleries will be allowed to open across the country for the first time this year when more lockdown measures are eased tomorrow.

Restaurants and pubs will also be able to serve customers indoors for the first time since December.

Ahead of the big unlock, venues have already begun selling out.

Seats at the famous Globe Theatre reportedly unavailable now until the middle of next month

And Grayson Perry's Manchester Art Gallery exhibition is also said to booked out throughout May and into June.

But delivering a stark reality check, the Health Secretary today warned about the 'risk' of meeting indoors.

The warning comes as fears continue over the spread of the Indian Covid variant in the UK.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Mr Hancock said: 'We should all be careful, we all know the risks, outside is safer than inside - so even though you can, from tomorrow, meet up inside, it's still better to meet up outside.

Matt Hancock today warned people to 'be careful' when hugging others on Monday, as England prepares to finally unlock

Theatres, cinemas and art galleries will be allowed to open across the country for the first time this year when more lockdown measures are eased tomorrow

Restaurants and pubs will also be able to serve customers indoors since December. Pictured: A waitress at a bar brings out pints to customers in Edinburgh

Ahead of the big unlock, venues have already begun selling out, with the famous Globe Theatre reportedly sold out until the middle of next month. Pictured: The National Theatre in London is also opening tomorrow

'We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome': Matt Hancock backs jabs to beat Indian Covid variant 

Matt Hancock backed England's vaccine roll-out to beat the new Indian Covid variant today, saying there was evidence existing jabs could deal with the highly contagious new strain and keep the move out of lockdown on track.

The Health Secretary said that a new Oxford University investigation showed that the innoculations available were effective against the variant which is now dominant in some Northern towns. 

Four people are known to have died from the Indian variant but appearing on TV this morning Mr Hancock said those who had been hospitalised were 'largely people who are eligible for the vaccine but have not taken it'.

It came as Boris Johnson today pledged to increase the speed of Britain's vaccine roll-out to a million jabs a day in an attempt to beat the increasing prevalence of the variant amid fears it could derail the country's exit from lockdown. 

Appearing on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday he said: 'There's new very early data out from Oxford University, and I would stress that this is from the labs, it's not clinical data, and it's very early.

'But it does give us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there's a cluster.

'That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease.

'We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.'

But Mr Hancock did strike a note of more caution over the final release from lockdown on June 21, saying the final decision would not be taken until June 14. 

Sage's Professor John Edmunds urged the country not to panic over the new variant, telling the BBC's Marr that those who have been vaccinated are unlikely to experience more than mild Covid symptoms from it. 

Meanwhile a growing number of questions are also being asked about the failure to make people arriving into the country from India quarantine earlier, after it emerged the government failed to put India on the 'red list' even though infection rates were nearly 50 times higher among arrivals from the country than the rest of the UK. 

Of the 3,345 people touching down in Britain from India between March 25 and April 7, some 4.8 per cent tested positive for Covid, compared to just 0.1 per cent of people in England, Public Health England data shows.   

'Of course there are people who have been yearning to have some physical contact - you should do that carefully. 

'If you've had both jabs more than two weeks ago, that's much safer.

Asked who he planned to hug first, with the Government set to relax rules tomorrow on contact with close family and friends, he said: 'I was asked on Tuesday and I said the thing I'm really looking forward to is hugging my mum, she's had two jabs - actually dad got quite upset about that.

'I'm really looking forward to hugging you as well, dad, but we'll probably do it outside and keep the ventilation going: hands, face and space.'

It comes as art venues will be able to indoor areas for the first time this year.

Measures are being lifted on Monday to allow all art venues, museums and theatres to open as part of a raft of new lockdown easing measures.

But, with Britons now having had their freedoms curtailed for the last five months, many are now rushing to get back to visit their favourite cultural sites.

According to the Sunday Times, Shakespeare’s Globe in London tickets are sold out until the middle of next month.

And the paper reports that Grayson Perry's upcoming exhibition at Manchester's has also booked out until the end of next month.

The vast majority of free tickets up until June were reportedly booked within eight hours of going online.

A waiting list has been set up, with opening times to be extended, with 500 people already signed up.

Similarly, tickets for exhibitions at the Tate Modern and David Hockney’s exhibition at the Royal Academy have also sold out until later this year.  

In the cinemas, families are busy booking up Peter Rabbit 2, while Oscar-winning Nomadland is expected to be a firm favourite with movie-fans. 

It comes as, despite his cautious tone, Mr Hancock backed England's vaccine roll-out to beat the new Indian Covid variant.

He said there was evidence existing jabs could deal with the highly contagious new strain and keep the move out of lockdown on track.

The Health Secretary also said that a new Oxford University investigation showed that the innoculations available were effective against the variant which is now dominant in some Northern towns. 

Four people are known to have died from the Indian variant but appearing on TV this morning Mr Hancock said those who had been hospitalised were 'largely people who are eligible for the vaccine but have not taken it'.

It came as Boris Johnson today pledged to increase the speed of Britain's vaccine roll-out to a million jabs a day in an attempt to beat the increasing prevalence of the variant amid fears it could derail the country's exit from lockdown. 

Appearing on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday he said: 'There's new very early data out from Oxford University, and I would stress that this is from the labs, it's not clinical data, and it's very early.

'But it does give us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there's a cluster. 

Boris Johnson (pictured) will proceed as planned with tomorrow's reopening of pubs and restaurants for indoor dining, but has warned that the Indian variant poses 'a real risk of disruption' to the end of social distancing on June 21

'That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease.

'We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.'

But Mr Hancock did strike a note of more caution over the final release from lockdown on June 21, saying the final decision would not be taken until June 14. 

Sage's Professor John Edmunds urged the country not to panic over the new variant, telling the BBC's Marr that those who have been vaccinated are unlikely to experience more than mild Covid symptoms from it. 

Meanwhile a growing number of questions are also being asked about the failure to make people arriving into the country from India quarantine earlier, after it emerged the government failed to put India on the 'red list' even though infection rates were nearly 50 times higher among arrivals from the country than the rest of the UK. 

Of the 3,345 people touching down in Britain from India between March 25 and April 7, some 4.8 per cent tested positive for Covid, compared to just 0.1 per cent of people in England, Public Health England data shows.  

It is the latest statistic to be brandished at the Prime Minister, with pressure growing over his decision to delay banning travel from the Asian nation until late April, even though flights to and from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh were restricted two weeks earlier. 

Labour's Yvette Cooper today called for tomorrow's lifting of the ban on international travel to be halted.  

Over 35s will be invited to get their Covid jabs this week as Britain steps up its vaccine drive amid Indian variant fears 

By Georgia Simcox for MailOnline

Those aged over 35 will be invited to get their Covid-19 jabs this week amid fears over the Indian variant, the Health Secretary said. 

Matt Hancock announced that those in the younger age bracket will be able to start booking their jab within days as Britain steps up its vaccine drive. 

He told the BBC: 'This coming week we're going to be opening up vaccination to the 35s-and-over across the country because this isn't just about accelerating the vaccination programme in Bolton, it's about going as fast as we possibly can nationwide.'

The Health Secretary said the Indian variant is 'relatively widespread' but in lower numbers currently across most of the country. 

Matt Hancock announced that those in the younger age bracket will be able to start booking their jab within days as Britain steps up its vaccine drive

Mr Hancock added that it is 'quite likely' the Indian variant of Covid-19 will become the dominant variant in the UK. 

He told the Andrew Marr show: 'I think it's quite likely this will become the dominant variant. We don't know exactly how much more transmissible it is but I think it is likely it will become the dominant variant here.

'What that reinforces is the importance of people coming forward for testing and being careful because this isn't over yet.

'But the good news is because we have increasing confidence that the vaccine works against the variant, the strategy is on track - it's just the virus has just gained a bit of pace and we've therefore all got to be that bit much more careful and cautious.'

The Prime Minister pledged to increase the speed of Britain's vaccine rollout to a million jabs a day amid fears the Indian variant could derail the country's exit from lockdown.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) concluded there is a 'realistic possibility' the strain is 50 per cent more transmissible than the one that emerged in Kent. 

More than 56 million vaccinations have been administered in the UK, with 36.3m receiving the first dose and 19.7m receiving the second jab

It would mean it could spread widely enough through the unvaccinated members of the population to cause a serious third wave despite the success of the vaccine drive.  

Ministers are hoping to accelerate the vaccine drive because the jab is still effective against the Indian variant and wider levels of vaccination could halt its spread, but as it stands lockdown restrictions will still be eased further on Monday. 

Matt Hancock said that five people who have had a single jab have been hospitalised with the Indian variant in Bolton, and one who had received both.   

Asked about people who have received two jabs, he said: 'We think there's one person, but that person was frail.

'A small number have had one jab and then there's one case where they've had two jabs and they've ended up in hospital and they were frail.' 

Mr Hancock said they are not aware of anyone who had died with the Indian variant after receiving two jabs.    

The Prime Minister pledged to increase the speed of Britain's vaccine rollout to a million jabs a day amid fears the Indian variant could derail the country's exit from lockdown

In Bolton and Blackburn, the most infectious areas of the UK, Covid 'hit squads' are going door-to-door to offer entire multi-generational households inoculations.  

Cases of the B.1.617.2 strain have more than doubled in the past week across the UK, with 1,313 cases detected by May 12, up from the 520 the previous week. 

Ministers are pushing on with a major easing of restrictions on Monday despite concerns over the Indian variant.

Professor John Edmunds said if things deteriorate quickly with the new variant, action will have to be taken.

Asked about Monday's easing of restrictions, the Sage scientist told the Andrew Marr Show: 'I think we have to monitor this very carefully, I don't think we should rule anything out. 

'So if things look like they're getting worse rapidly then I do think that action needs to be taken.'

He said it is 'very early days' when it comes to this variant, adding: 'I think that we are still quite uncertain about many, many things including the effectiveness of the vaccines.'

Outlining two approaches which could be taken to tackle the spread of the new variant, he said one was to 'try and stamp on it locally' while another would be an attempt to 'improve vaccine coverage across the UK as best as possible, and let's see how it goes'.

Asked whether all restrictions are likely to end on June 21 as planned, Prof Edmunds said: 'I think we'll know much more about that in the next few weeks as we see how this variant spreads and the impact that it's going to have.

'I think at the moment it's a bit too early to say.'

As to whether the situation could have been avoided had the border to India been closed more quickly, he said: 'I don't think it would have been avoided, it could have delayed things a little bit.'

More than 56 million vaccinations have been administered in the UK, with 36.3m receiving the first dose and 19.7m receiving the second jab. 

In the UK, 2,027 people tested positive for the virus yesterday while it was announced 7 people had died.  

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