MATT Hancock warned that regions hit hard by coronavirus WILL be put in lightning lockdowns once national restrictions are lifted.
The Health Secretary refused to rule out measures being imposed locally – as government graphics showed a dramatic rise in cases in certain areas.
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At last night’s Downing Street briefing, Mr Hancock said the “goal” is to ease restrictions nationally – but ministers would not rule out local action amid regional disparities.
The Health Secretary said: “We proposed to come out of the national lockdown all together. These regional disparities are smaller than we saw in the autumn.
“We don’t rule out taking local action in an individual area as we see a spike. But the goal is for us all to come out together.”
Mr Hancock pointed to worrying regional graphs which show the unequal spread of Covid across the country.
He added: “The number of cases is now falling by only 15% a week.
“In some areas of the country that has flattened entirely and one in five local authority areas has seen a rise in cases in the last week.
“This stark picture shows that this isn’t over yet. The stay at home rules are still in place for a reason.”
We don’t rule out taking local action in an individual area as we see a spike
Dr Susan Hopkins said regional differences in coronavirus case rates are due to differences in occupations.
The senior medical adviser at Public Health England told the Downing Street press conference: “We are looking into detail at the differences in the regions.
“Some of the differences we see relate to the occupations and workplaces.”
She urged people to come forward for testing so case rates can be reduced.
It comes as:
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam added: “In some parts of the UK case rates are changing albeit slowly but in the wrong direction.
“This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact I’m afraid this battle at the moment is not won.”
When the country emerged from the first national lockdown last year, restrictions were reimposed in specific regions that experienced a rise in cases.
Leicester became the first city to enter a local lockdown in July last year, with swathes of the North West, Yorkshire and the North East later seeing new restrictions imposed.
Prior to the third national lockdown in January, different regions were placed into Tiers according to their infection rate – but Boris Johnson has pledged to scrap the system this year.
Instead, the PM has said that Tiers will remain but they will apply at a national level.
Mr Hancock’s warning comes as infection rates creep up in certain regions of the UK.
New figures released showed the R rate – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass Covid onto – had increased slightly in the South East, North West and the Midlands.
However, the rate is now below 1 in every region – meaning the epidemic is shrinking.
During the press conference, Mr Hancock warned the fight against Covid “isn’t over yet” but announced a third of Brits have now received a vaccine.
He said: “I do worry that people think it’s all over.
“The more they think that when it’s not, the greater the headwind they’re going to give to the vaccine programme and the more at risk will become the milestones set on the roadmap.
“It’s just a collective effort. It’s actually up to us whether we can hold our nerve and see this through properly until the end of the roadmap or whether we’re going to fall at the last furlough.”
Mr Hancock announced that 19 million people have now had at least one jab, which is 35% of adults across the UK.
And he praised The Sun’s hugely successful Jabs Army campaign – saying there will be a big role for its volunteers in the future.
The success of Britain’s vaccine rollout helped drive the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, with all restrictions set to end on June 21.
Britain is currently on target to give all Brits over-50s at least one dose of the vaccine by April 15.
People aged between 40 and 49 will be next in line for the jab, followed by the 30-39s age group and then all those 18 to 29, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced this morning.
There had been calls for professions such as police officers and teachers to be given the Covid vaccine jab next.
But the JCVI said continuing to prioritise by age would “provide the greatest benefit in the shortest time”.
And it said that prioritising certain professions would have been more complex to deliver and could slow down the vaccine rollout,
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for the JCVI, said: “The current strategy is to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe outcomes and die from Covid-19.
“The evidence is clear that the risk of hospitalisation and death increases with age.”