The country is on track to ease restrictions on July 19 as the data on coronavirus infections and deaths is “looking encouraging”, the health secretary has said.
Matt Hancock said he was hopeful that the remaining lockdown rules in England would be lifted in a month’s time as planned.
“We are on track for the opening on July 19 and we will watch vigilantly, we will look at the data in particular at the start of next week” he told Today on BBC Radio 4. “The data over the last week or so has been encouraging, especially looking at the number of people who are dying — that is staying very, very low.”
This month ministers delayed plans to remove all restrictions by four weeks over concerns about the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India.
Boris Johnson warned yesterday that the country faced a “rough winter” this year, and Hancock said the winter months would be “challenging” because of a combination of flu and coronavirus.
However, he added that the flu vaccine could be offered alongside a coronavirus booster jab in the autumn to prevent the need for fresh restrictions later in the year.
“We are worried about flu this winter because people’s natural immunity will be lower because we haven’t had any serious flu for 18 months now,” Hancock told Times Radio. “We didn’t have flu at all really this last winter because of the restrictions that were in place.”
“We are going to have a very significant flu vaccination drive this autumn … you might get your Covid booster jab and the flu jab at the same time. We are testing whether that can be done.”
He attributed the success of the government’s vaccination programme to NHS data sharing. “The vaccination programme — so many people say to me it’s so efficient, you turn up at the right time and you’re straight through … That is because we have a good data architecture to underpin it,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
The government announced a new NHS data strategy, called Data Saves Lives, which Hancock said would enable better data sharing across the service while making data more secure.
“If you have a modern data system you can get better at both,” he said. “The goal is to make sure the NHS itself can run better.
“For instance, how many times have you been to the NHS where you get asked the same questions over and over, not just about who you are and your personal details but about the condition that you have? Imagine a world in which every clinician looking after you had access to your shared record.”
He suggested that people may be contacted to allow them to opt out of data-sharing. “I’m not against that because I think consent should be at the heart of it,” he said. “What I want to do is to make sure everybody has the opportunity to express their preference and their consent.”