The level of hospitalisations and deaths coming down is essential for lockdown ending (Image: AFP via Getty Images)
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When the lockdown ends in England ends will be decided by four factors, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking to MPs, Mr Hancock talked about the four criteria that the government will look at before deciding on when they can end the lockdown.
Ministers have said that they plan to end the lockdown in late February – but others, including Michael Gove,have suggested it could drag on into March.
Mr Hancock told MPs: "We've set out the conditions that we'll look at for the relaxation of the restrictions.
"Those are, that there isn't another major, new variant that is causing difficulties.
"The vaccination program is working, and the number of hospitalisations and deaths is coming down."The Health Secretary said there were no "fixed thresholds" for any of the key criteria – but stressed ministers were always looking at the "direction" deaths and hospitalisations are travelling.
The warning came as he insisted – despite the government's catalogue of errors – that this will be the last national lockdown.
It came as Mr Hancock said people may need to be revaccinated every six months in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr Hancock said: “I anticipate we will probably need to revaccinate because we don’t know the longevity of the protection from these vaccines.
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“We don’t know how frequently it will be, but it might need to be every six months, it might need to be every year.”
Asked if he thought this would be the “last of the lockdowns” because of the vaccines, Mr Hancock said: “I do, yes.”
Mr Hancock also said that Covid-19 vaccines that require adjustments to fight new variants of the virus may not need to go through the usual full trials process.
It came as Public Health England confirmed that case rates in England are rising among all age groups.
The Health Secretary also warned that the number of people in hospitals may not fall as quickly as death rates once the vaccine is rolled out as a result of the number of younger adults with the virus.
He said" Hospitalisation levels I would also expect to fall, but ironically not as quickly as deaths in the first instance.
“The reason is that people that are slightly younger spend longer in hospital, often because they survive when somebody who is very old and frail might not survive for as long.”
Mr Hancock said rolling out the variations of the vaccine could be simpler
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On vaccines, he added: “As with the flu vaccine each year, for a type of vaccine that has been clinically trialled and approved, if you make small adjustments to it, then it may not need the full year-long trials process that a new vaccine needs.
“That, of course, is a decision for the independent MHRA.”
He added: “The way I have described it, is if you are lucky to have Range Rover and you get a new wing mirror stuck on it, it’s still a Range Rover and should be classified as such.
“In the same way, if you make a small change to a vaccine it’s essentially a regulatory clinical decision as to whether that needs to go through the full panoply of the full three phases of clinical trials"
Mr Hancock also warned that the number of people in hospitals may not fall as quickly as death rates once the vaccine is rolled out.