Everyone aged 25 and over in England will be invited to get a coronavirus vaccine from Tuesday, Matt Hancock has announced, adding that the government is “reassured” that jabs still offer protection against the Delta variant discovered in India.
The health secretary said he was “cheered” by recent scenes of young people queueing to get their injections, telling the Commons: “The enthusiasm for the jab is not just the preserve of older generations.”
He also revealed that 12,383 cases of the Delta variant had been recorded in the UK so far, and that only 126 people who were found to have had it had been admitted to hospital.
Of those, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had had one dose, and three had received both doses. “We should all be reassured by this, because it shows that those vaccinated groups who previously made up the vast majority of hospitalisations are in the minority,” Hancock said.
The “clear breakage of the previously inexorable link” between cases and hospitalisations is “very good news”, he said, adding that scientific advisers had been asked to provide clinical advice on vaccinating children aged 12 to 18.
But he faced pressure from Tory MPs over whether the final stage of unlocking, scheduled for 21 June, would go ahead as planned, and was criticised for the government’s handling of international travel restrictions.
The former cabinet minster Theresa Villiers warned against a “sudden retreat from the roadmap”, while Mark Harper, the chair of the Covid Recovery Group, said that if social distancing was not dropped in two weeks’ time then “we won’t have gone anywhere close back to normal”.
Hancock said it was still “too early to say” if all legal limits on social contact would be scrapped under the fourth step of the roadmap, adding: “So far we have succeeded in keeping it irreversible, and I hope we can keep it that way.”
Huw Merriman, the chair of the Commons transport select committee, suggested that Portugal – which will be moved from the green list to amber from 4am on Tuesday – should have been kept on the green watchlist instead, and said it was “difficult to see” how workers in the aviation and tourism industries would ever be given hope for their future.
Chris Grayling, the former transport secretary, accused the government of dismissing advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) last week that Malta should have been added to the green list. Hancock did not deny that, only saying ministers faced “a number of balanced cases”.
Labour, meanwhile, pressed the government to “go further” on administering vaccines. Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, suggested the timeframe between both doses be narrowed, and pointed to the Welsh government announcing that all over-18s would be offered a vaccine from next Monday.
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, accused the government of being “too slow in putting India on the red list” and said the JBC advice on travel restrictions was being “kept secret”. She said that given “confusion” about how decisions on the traffic light system are made, the advice should be published – like that provided by the Sage advisory group.