Sajid Javid to update MP’s on lifting UK COVID-19 restrictions today
- Sajid Javid replaces Matt Hancock as UK Health Secretary after breaking social distancing guidance
- Matt Hancock is now being investigated over the use of private emails to conduct government business
- The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca trial booster vaccine against the Beta variant
- COVID-19 cases rise by 70% within UK schools
Matt Hancock resigned as UK Health Secretary over the weekend following reports of an extra-marital affair with aide Gina Coladangelo. Former Home Secretary and Chancellor of the exchequer, Sajid Javid, has replaced Mr Hancock as UK Health Secretary and has commenced duties immediately.
Today, Mr Javid will address Members of Parliament (MPs) to provide updates on lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the UK. The update from the New UK Health Secretary comes less than 48 hours after his appointment and has already stated his aim to get the UK back to normality as soon as possible.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in the UK from 21st June to 19th July 2021. However, Mr Johnson also stated that there would be a review of the UK’s coronavirus status to assess the possibility of lifting restrictions two weeks earlier on the 5th July 2021.
Although the UK has eased travel restrictions on holidays abroad, adding further countries to its green travel list last week, there are increasing concerns regarding the spread of the Delta COVID variant.
The ministerial statement will take place this afternoon in the House of Commons. Although UK coronavirus cases have increased 59% week-on-week, the UK government will consider vaccine progressions when deciding whether to lift restrictions early.
Currently, 84.1% of UK adults have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, whilst 61.6% of UK adults have received both doses. Numerous Conservative backbenchers have pleaded for coronavirus restrictions in the UK to be lifted early, arguing that the country must learn to live with COVID-19.
Sajid Javid spent most of the weekend at the Department of Health and Social Care to receive the latest updates from advisers. However, BBC political correspondent Ben Wright stated that Mr Javid is unlikely to be fazed by the high-profile role, given his previous appointments as UK Home Secretary and Chancellor.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, stated that Mr Javid must be a voice of caution at this time as the NHS looks to face further pressure this year as coronavirus cases continue to rise once again. That being said, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said the UK would have a good level of protection from COVID-19 if jabs continued to be administered at a rapid rate.
Professor Pollard said from looking at data provided by Public Health England; coronavirus vaccines appear to be providing 90% protection against COVID-19.
Last weekend saw the opening of numerous walk-in vaccination centres across stadiums, shopping centres and theatres to encourage more people to receive their coronavirus vaccine.
While Sajid Javid appears to be taking his new role as UK Health Secretary into his stride, labelling it as an ‘honour’, his predecessor Matt Hancock has become subjected to further investigations.
Matt Hancock being investigated over the use of private emails
Following revelations of his affair with aide Gina Coladangelo and breaking social distancing guidelines, former UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is under further investigation. It’s been reported Mr Hancock breached security guidelines by using his personal email account to discuss government business.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner asked for a full-scale investigation to decipher whether Mr Hancock had broken security laws. Ms Rayner highlighted the importance of knowing how many emails were sent privately and how much government business was being conducted secretly.
Cabinet Office rules state that all communication must be accessible, with copies of private emails sent to departmental email addresses for complete transparency. Copies of personal emails can also be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Private emails sent amongst the UK government means that highly sensitive and confidential communications can be easily accessed by cyber hackers and is considered a huge security breach. Ms Rayner commented that it was staggering that the Tory government had placed national security at such risk.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock’s aide, Ms Coladangelo, has resigned from her role as a non-executive director of the Department of Health. It has also been confirmed that Mr Hancock will not claim the GBP 16,000 severance payment to which he is entitled.
In his resignation letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Hancock stated that he owed it to the British public, to be honest, and acknowledged that he had let people down when they had sacrificed so much.
Mr Johnson responded to the letter by saying that Mr Hancock should be proud of what he achieved during his time as UK Health Secretary and was grateful for his service and contribution.
Trial of booster vaccine against the Beta variant
The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have begun new trials to test a booster vaccine against the Beta COVID variant. The Beta variant is a strain of COVID-19 which was initially found in South Africa. The booster vaccine is being trialled with 2,250 participants from the UK, South Africa, Brazil and Poland.
The participants include those who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine and individuals who have not been vaccinated at all against the virus. The booster vaccine is currently referred to as AZD2816 and contains slight genetic alterations from the original Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to help combat the Beta COVID variant.
Andrew Pollard, chief investigator at the Oxford Vaccine Group, highlighted the importance of trialling booster vaccines to ensure that the UK is best prepared and stays ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the UK’s vaccination programme has proved to be very successful so far, there are still uncertainties about how long the current vaccines offer protection against coronavirus.
Maheshi Ramasamy, Principal Investigator at the Oxford Vaccine Group, said that the booster vaccine trials would indicate whether further tweaks against the COVID variants will be needed in the future. Data from the vaccine trial is scheduled to be released later this year.
The current vaccines, including AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are thought to be less effective against the Beta COVID variant than the original strain of the virus. Concerns are now growing as to the vaccine’s effectiveness against the Delta COVID variant.
70% rise in COVID-19 cases in UK schools
Following reports of a significant rise in infections amongst children this summer, it has now been confirmed that COVID cases have risen by 70% across UK schools.
More than 38,000 reported COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK in the last seven days, which is a 59% rise. The surge in coronavirus cases is largely down to the spread of the Delta COVID variant, proven to be more infectious than the original strain of coronavirus.
More children in the UK have become infected by coronavirus, which is thought to be down to fewer young people being vaccinated.
Recent data from Public Health England confirmed that there were 148 outbreaks of coronavirus, which were all linked to school settings in the week up to 20th June 2021. The figure is a significant rise from the previous week, where 96 cases were reported, making an increase of 54%.
Coronavirus infection rates amongst individuals in their 20s are 267.9 per 100,000 and 217.4 per 100,000 amongst 10-19-year-olds.
According to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 3.3% of UK pupils were absent from school this week, up from 1.2% at the beginning of June 2021. The primary reason for recent school absences was self-isolation due to a potential COVID-19 case inside schools, equating to around 16,000 pupils. Data suggests that around 200,000 UK pupils have remained at home due to contact with an infected individual whilst at school.
The Pfizer jab is now approved for children between the ages of 12 and 15 after being authorised for over-16-year olds. In addition, the UK government is looking at whether to roll out the coronavirus vaccine to school pupils now in a bid to prevent further spread of infection amongst UK schools. Educational leaders have already stated that vaccines must be rolled out to students as a matter of urgency.