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Vast majority acted responsibly as lockdown eased, says Health Secretary

Coronavirus | Published:

Matt Hancock sidesteps whether NHS staff will get a pay rise.

Rubbish in Soho, London, as coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased across England (VIctoria Jones/PA)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vast majority of people who went out on so-called Super Saturday in England did the right thing, but he stopped short of endorsing a pay rise for NHS staff dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ahead of the easing of lockdown restrictions in England on Saturday, Mr Hancock had warned that people could end up “behind bars” if they got too carried away.

Speaking on Sky’s Ridge On Sunday, Mr Hancock said: “Well I think that from what I’ve seen, although there’s some pictures to the contrary, very, very largely people have acted responsibly.

“The large proportion of people, the vast majority of people are, I think, doing the right thing”.

However, he added: “But of course we’ll take action when we need to when… if the minority break the rules.”

On those who did not social distance, Mr Hancock said: “Well we’ll of course keep this very closely under review, and you’ve seen for instance in Leicester but also in other places that we don’t shirk from bringing in more drastic measures if that is what’s needed to control the virus.”

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Asked about a pay rise for NHS workers, Mr Hancock side-stepped the question, saying: “We absolutely want to reward NHS staff for what
they have done.”

Pressed on reports that NHS England has asked for an extra £10 billion to cover costs of coronavirus, Mr Hancock said: “I just don’t recognise that story.

“We have been working very closely with the Treasury on making sure we have the funding that we need.”

Mr Hancock said the Government’s message to the public is “enjoy the new freedoms, but do so safely”.

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A further 27,000 excess deaths are “likely” between now and next April under the current approach to coronavirus, a former Government chief scientific adviser has claimed.

Speaking on Sky News, Sir David King said it looked as though the current Government policy was to “maintain” the current level of about 3,000 new infections per day across England.

Late-night drinkers in Soho dance on the street in the early hours of Sunday morning
Late-night drinkers in Soho dance on the street in the early hours of Sunday morning (Victoria Jones/PA)

He said: “What we are saying is 27,000 excess deaths are likely between now and next April if the expectation by the chief medical officer is that he would be surprised and delighted if the UK is in the same place next spring.

“If he’s correct we would still have about 2,000 to 3,000 new infections in England per day and that is the number of deaths that would follow from that.

He added: “It looks as if the policy is to maintain the current level of about 3,000 new infections per day across England, while Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland are heading towards net zero.”

The comments came as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said selected international sporting events and major movie and television productions will get the green light despite the coronavirus outbreak.

The Culture Secretary spoke to Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise this week about how the exemption will allow production to resume on Mission Impossible 7 and 8.

Mission Impossible Fallout Premiere – London
Tom Cruise attending the Mission: Impossible Fallout premiere (Ian West/PA)

Also, significant darts, horse racing and other sporting events are expected to follow, ministers said.

The easing of rules will see some sports stars and their support teams, as well as international film and TV stars, directors and producers, exempt from quarantine, if they are essential to the event or production.

Under the new rules, sporting authorities, event organisers and the screen industry will need to follow Government Covid-19 secure guidance and put in place “stringent protocols” to ensure that they have a minimal impact on public health.

Exempted individuals will have to live and work in controlled “bubbled” environments behind closed doors, according to the rules.

Serpentine ridden by jockey Emmet McNamara wins the Investec Derby at Epsom Racecourse behind closed doors (Bill Selwyn/PA)
Serpentine ridden by jockey Emmet McNamara wins the Investec Derby at Epsom Racecourse behind closed doors (Bill Selwyn/PA)

Mr Dowden said: “I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed exemptions from border health measures for a limited number of athletes and events staff, which means the British summer of sport is back on.

“I am grateful to the sports governing bodies who have worked closely with us to put in place stringent protocols to ensure these events can go ahead safely.

“It will mean that fans of the British Grand Prix, international cricket and Champions League football can look forward to yet more sporting action on home soil – a further boost to our national recovery.”

Government guidance will also be set out this week to allow small numbers of “essential cast and crew” to travel to the UK without having to quarantine for 14 days.

It was revealed that the Culture Secretary spoke to Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise this week about how the exemption will allow production to resume on the Mission Impossible blockbusters which are shot at the Warner Bros Studios Leavesden in Hertfordshire.

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