Matt Hancock has warned people to “not blow it” and urged them to keep following the Covid-19 rules during the vaccine rollout.
In the Commons, the Health Secretary also told MPs the Government has “five contingency plans” to ensure the vaccine supply chain remains functioning no matter the outcome of UK and EU trade talks, and that he hopes vaccinations in care homes can “start before Christmas”.
Asked by Conservative Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) if the UK should be able to move quicker to lift local restrictions in the new year, Mr Hancock said: “I very much hope so but there’s some time between now and then.
“We’ve got to temper our joy and enthusiasm at today’s announcement with the need to keep each other safe between now and then. Let’s not blow it since we can see the answer is on the horizon.”
Labour’s Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) said the vaccine news “does contrast to the rather alarming revelations last night that we may be veering towards a no-deal Brexit”.
She added: “If that does occur, could he guarantee that there will be no disruption to supply chains of all these different AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer vaccines?”
Mr Hancock replied: “To assure her on the point about logistical disruption, we have five contingency plans in total to ensure that we can continue with the vaccination supply no matter if there are different types of disruption.”
On care homes, in response to former Conservative minister Damian Green, the Health Secretary said: “I hope that we can get the vaccine out to residents of care homes as soon as is feasibly possible.
“They are in the top priority clinically and it’s simply a question of how quickly we can operationalise getting the vaccine out to care homes. I hope that that can start before Christmas.”
Mr Hancock told the Commons more hospitals will be added to the list that can start vaccinating people “later today”.
Earlier, Mr Hancock said the faster the vaccine is rolled out, the sooner the tier system can be removed altogether.
Conservative Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) said: “As more and more of us are vaccinated against Covid-19, can (Mr Hancock) outline what plans there are to ease the most draconian measures across the tier system so that people and businesses can sensibly return to normal?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Whilst the vaccine rolls out, the best way to get anybody’s area down through the tiers is to continue to follow the restrictions that are, unfortunately, still absolutely necessary to keep people safe.
“However, having said that, because we have a vaccine, the faster that we can roll out the vaccine, the sooner we can get to the point where we can get rid of the system altogether.”
Conservative MP and chairman of the new Covid Recovery Group Mark Harper said it is “not right” to maintain every restriction until the entire population has been vaccinated.
Mr Harper told the Commons: “Given that I think (Mr Hancock) was right to be a little cautious about the speed that we’re going to be able to get this vaccine rolled out, it seems to be not right that we should keep every single restriction in place until we’ve rolled out the vaccine to the entire population.
“It still remains the onus is on the Government to justify every restriction and the balance between the benefit to reducing Covid, the economic impact and the non-Covid health arm.
“Can I ask the Government to set that detail out before the House is asked to take another decision on these restrictions in January?”
Mr Hancock replied: “The House might be relieved to know that (Mr Harper) and I agree with each other on the need to ensure that as the vaccine is rolled out to vulnerable groups, so we therefore monitor the impact of the vaccine on reducing cases, reducing hospitalisations and reducing the number of people who sadly die from this disease, and taking that basis for the judgment of how soon we can lift the restrictions.
“He and I want to lift the restrictions as soon as is safely possible and the question of that judgment of how safely is one that we will have to monitor and debate in this House over the coming weeks and months.”