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Source: Labour List UK

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour has urged the government to “look again” at its easing of Covid rules over Christmas after Matt Hancock announced that large parts of the East and South East of England will now enter the toughest tier of restrictions.

Following the first scheduled review of tier allocations, the Health Secretary this morning revealed that Tier 3 – which involves closing hospitality – would now apply to many more areas from Saturday at one minute past midnight.

This applies to Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Surrey (with the exception of Waverley), Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire.

Bristol and North Somerset will come out of Tier 3 and enter Tier 2 instead, while Herefordshire will enter Tier 1, Hancock said. But he added that “in most places, we are not there yet” in terms of moving down the scale.

“Especially with the vaccine already here, we must be cautious as we accelerate the vaccine deployment as per the winter plan,” the Health Secretary told the House of Commons. “We’ve come so far, we mustn’t blow it now.”

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth in response highlighted that the number of people in hospital with Covid is now the highest since April 22nd, and that this figure has risen 20% since the end of the second lockdown.

“We saw in Canada and the US huge spikes in infections following Thanksgiving. We will see a spike here. This isn’t about cancelling Christmas. Santa will still deliver his presents,” the Shadow Heath Secretary said.

On the easing of rules next week, he added: “But is he really telling us that allowing indoor mixing of three households across regions and generations for five days is sensible when the virus is ranging with such ferocity at the moment?

“The devastating tragedy is that those who will be most impacted by the virus spreading through the easing are those who will be at the front queue for the vaccine in the next month or two. So will he look again at the Christmas arrangements?”

He went on to ask his opposite number in government about the resources being allocated to the vaccine programme, when vaccination centres would open and why the existing software system keeps crashing.

Ashworth also referred to “speculation that the opening of schools will be delayed by a week in January to give time to get mass testing up and running”. Tes has reported that the government is considering delaying the start of term.

Hancock emphasised that “it is up to each of us to take responsibility for our actions, within the rules of course but also being cautious” and that “this is a massive team effort” in response to concerns over Christmas bubbles.

He said mass vaccination sites are for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, rather than the Pfizer one, which means it will be “some weeks until we will see those rolled out”, and primary care sites are being set up in the meantime.

On software problems, the minister said the “niggles” are “small” and being “brilliantly dealt with”. He did not give details to address the specific question on schools, but suggested the government would soon offer more information.

MIL OSI United Kingdom