Dominic Raab has urged caution in the “last lap” of the fight against coronavirus, arguing there is only “a little bit more time” until all legal restrictions on social interaction are removed.
The Foreign Secretary said on Sunday that “steady steps” out of lockdown are “the smart way to go” so that the many sacrifices are not squandered as people plead for hugs between family members to be permitted again sooner.
Mr Raab insisted that the Government would publish a list of nations deemed safe to visit “shortly” ahead of the expected lifting of the ban on international holidays for people in England from May 17.
And he said that “all the different contingencies” are being looked at when asked about a reported plan to consider offering vaccines to secondary school pupils as soon as September.
“We’re very close now to really turning the corner and I think we still need to be careful to go as I said we don’t want to see the gains lost and the sacrifices that have been made undone,” the Cabinet minister told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
“By the time we get to June 21 almost all social restrictions will be lifted so there’s only a little bit more time to go, but it’s right to make sure we do that in a careful way.”
He acknowledged that the rollout of vaccines has increased the temptation for still prohibited social interactions outside individuals’ households including “hugging your loved ones that you haven’t been able to do for a while”.
“I do think we just need to make sure that in the last lap, if you like, that we are careful and we don’t lose the gains we’ve made,” he added.
In other developments, official figures said 15 million people have now been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, meaning nearly 23% of the population has had two doses.
Ministers are yet to publish details of a new traffic light system detailing different rules for people returning from overseas travel depending on the risk.
Mr Raab told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that the lists categorising countries into three groups is “coming shortly”.
Meanwhile, a scientist advising the Government warned it is vital that people do not think that vaccines are the only thing that is going to halt the pandemic.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told Marr: “We really do know that lockdown works and that public events, mass events, will feed the spread of the virus, and that we mustn’t take our concentration off that and think that just by vaccinating we are going to be out of the situation.”
Mr Raab said “some safeguards” may stay in place when legal restrictions end, such as continued use of masks and physical distancing.
And he said no decision has been made on whether to vaccinate children but that the Government is looking at “different contingencies”.
The Sunday Times reported that Pfizer jabs may be offered to secondary pupils from September when the new school year starts.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No decisions have been made on whether children should be offered vaccinations and we will be guided by the experts once clinical trials have concluded.”
Meanwhile, self-isolation requirements for individuals who have been in contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus could be relaxed as a result of a major new study utilising rapid testing.
Daily lateral flow tests will be given to as many as 40,000 people who have a positive Covid-19 contact in the Government-backed research announced on Sunday.
Instead of the 10 days of quarantine currently required, the participants will be sent a week’s worth of tests and will be able to go about their lives as before, as long as the results are negative.
The trial across England may provide greater evidence to reduce the length of time contacts of positive cases need to isolate, under efforts to restart social lives and reopen the economy.
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