Matt Hancock has claimed his plan for widespread, rapid checks for the disease across the country was the best hope for easing social-distancing measures. He also refused to rule out a coronavirus vaccine becoming widely available before this year’s festive season. “I hope that if this mass testing regime comes off, if the new technologies we’re working so hard on work, or we manage to get a vaccine between now and then – which we can’t rule out – then I hope we can have the happy and loving Christmas that people yearn for,” the Health Secretary said.
Mr Hancock delivered his upbeat assessment of the effort to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in a round of media interviews yesterday to highlight a £500million Government investment in community testing trials.
“Short of a vaccine, this is the best chance we have of reducing social distancing whilst controlling the virus, especially with winter coming, with all the challenges that brings,” he said.
He also claimed the NHS Test and Trace programme was a key reason why the UK was not suffering a similar new surge in coronavirus cases as other European nations.
“In other European countries we’re seeing this big second spike. Here the cases are broadly flat, partly because of our Test and Trace system working so effectively, partly because of the quarantine and the social distancing policies,” he said.
But he acknowledged that a possible second coronavirus wave remains a threat in the UK, saying: “We’re very worried about it.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the testing regime as working “well” despite reports that some people being directed to centres more than 100 miles from their homes for the checks.
“At the moment the system works well. Of course there are operational challenges from time to time but it works well.
“And we’re finding a higher and higher proportion of people in the country who have coronavirus and getting them tests so they can be looked after.
“But absolutely we need to roll out more testing – we have done throughout this crisis and today’s another step in solving some of those problems with the existing technology.”
In a plea to the public to volunteer for testing, he said: “If you have symptoms, please come forward and get a test. It is straightforward, it is easy and the vast majority of people get one close to their home.”
Earlier this week, Mr Hancock announced a new £500 million funding package aimed at supporting trials of a 20-minute Covid-19 test and efforts to explore the benefits of repeatedly testing people for the virus.
Money will go towards launching a new community-wide repeat population testing trial in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Existing trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a no-swab saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded through the new funding.