Lockdown may return in winter but Freedom Day set for July 19 as hospitalisations 'barely rising' and deaths ‘very low'
BRITS are to be freed from lockdown on July 19 as the vaccine defeats the Indian variant – but restrictions could return during a "challenging winter".
Matt Hancock announced the particularly "encouraging" data over the past week means the country is now "on track" for the great reopening next month.
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He said hospitalisations are "barely rising" despite the spiralling number of cases while deaths remain "very, very low".
But he warned the NHS faces an onslaught this winter because the flu will be back with a vengeance and the public's immunity to it is now low.
Asked whether there could be a return to lockdown in just a few months' time, Mr Hancock replied: "I hope we don't have to do that."
He said: "We are seeing that growth in case rates is slowing. Thankfully, the number of hospitalisations whilst rising is not rising very quickly.
"And thankfully even more, the number of people dying from COVID remains very low. It shows that the vaccine is working in getting us out of that."
But the Health Secretary warned there is "clinical concern" over low immunity within the population to the flu bug ahead of this winter.
He announced scientists are looking into whether it's safe to receive a Covid booster shot and the flu jab at the same time.
This would allow pharmacists to "deliver the bulk of the vaccination programme" for both and free up GPs to return to normal duties.
Mr Hancock said: "Almost nobody has had flu now for 18 months. The flu vaccination programme this autumn will be even more important.
"I hope with a booster shot we get that protection against Covid very, very high, and get the flu jab to a very, very wide proportion of people.
"The combination of all of those things I hope will give us protection but that is, that's a big task for the autumn.
"That will help to manage this this winter but we do we expect this winter to be to be challenging."
His remarks come after England's top medics warned Brits face a "miserable" winter in lockdown if hospitals start to be overwhelmed by Covid cases.
Public Health England's Dr Hopkins warned people to brace for the return of restrictions during the colder months.
She said: "We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can't predict the future, it depends on whether hospitals start to become overwhelmed."
Brendan Wren, professor of vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also added that a "pretty miserable winter" is ahead.
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