Michael Gove has said that there are “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as the nation battles to reduce the spread of COVID-19
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has said that the government “should be able” to start easing England’s new COVID-19 lockdown in March.
The senior government minister said that the public should not expect a sudden relaxation of the COVID-19 rules, with restrictions “progressively” eased instead.
And he warned that there are “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as England battles to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, which is being driven by a new COVID variant that has been judged to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the previous one.
The England lockdown follows shortly after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the new restrictions would be introduced upon people in Scotland at midnight on Monday in a bid to contain the new, faster-spreading strain of the virus.
As vaccines continue to be rolled out across England, the country is in a “race against time” against the variant, Mr Gove added.
Gove acknowledged that the UK government’s newly set target of offering a coronavirus vaccine to the nearly 14 million people who are in the nation’s top four priority groups in mid-February was “stretching”, but said that it was an achievable goal.
Asked how long the new nationwide lockdown could last for, the senior Cabinet Office minister said that ministers would “review the progress that we’ve made” on the 15th of February.
He added: “We hope that we will be able to progressively lift restrictions after that but what I can’t do is predict – nobody can predict – with accuracy exactly what we will be able to relax and when.”
“What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.”
This comes after Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient has become the first to receive the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19, after Over half a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were made ready for use on Monday.
Pressed again on a timeframe for easing restrictions, Mr Gove said: “We will keep these constantly under review but you are absolutely right, we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15-22.”
“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions.”
“I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, said that he has some “quarrels and criticisms” with the government over the latest national lockdown in England, but stressed that “everybody recognises how serious this is”.
“This is a time where we all have to say we will support the restrictions and do what we can to make these work,”
Sir Keir also said that he had “doubts” about the government’s new vaccination goals outlined by the Prime Minister, adding: “This is a race against time – I want the government to succeed… and I will offer my support.”