Zahawi hints lockdown rules could return this year as he doubles down on vaccine passports

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The vaccine minister told MPs in the Commons the Government had been left with no choice but to “adapt our approach” to tackling the virus by introducing vaccination certificates.

Re-iterating the announcement made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, he said proof of two jabs to access large indoor events would help keep the public safe during the third wave of Covid.

He said: “This is not a step that we take lightly.

“But, all throughout this pandemic, just like Governments all across the world, whether it’s Singapore, Australia or Germany and France, we’ve had to adapt our approach to meet the threats of this deadly virus and this is no different.”

Hinting ministers could reimpose other legal Covid restrictions in the future if hospitalisations risk overwhelming the NHS, he added: “We will always keep these measures, like all our measures, under review with the goal of returning to our freedoms we love and cherish.”

Most legal restrictions imposed in England during the pandemic were lifted on Monday as the country moved onto Stage 4 of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.

When unveiling his plan to return the country to normality earlier this year, Mr Johnson said he hoped the easing of restrictions would be “irreversible”.

But as the number of new infections continues to skyrocket ministers have become more cautious, refusing to rule out the reintroduction of measures if necessary.

There have been over 300,000 new cases in the past week, with the UK registering 44,204 infections yesterday.

At the same time hospitalisations have continued to rise with 747 admitted to hospital yesterday.

There are now 4,658 people on hospital wards with Covid.

Updating the House, Mr Zahawi said the number of people in hospital would be far higher if it wasn’t for the success of the vaccine rollout.

He said the latest analysis from the NHS indicated the inoculation programme had prevented as many as 52,600 admissions for England alone.

“A fitting example of the protective wall that our vaccination programme has given us – a wall that is getting stronger every day,” he said.

Defending the decision to introduce compulsory vaccine passports, the minister said the surge in cases was in part because “34 percent of people aged 18 to 29 have not had either dose” of the jab.

“The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and so we reserve the right to mandate its use in the future,” he said.

“Although we don’t encourage its use in essential settings like supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry where it is suitable for their venue or premises when they can see its potential to keep their clients or their customers safe.

“For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and likely to mix with people from outside their households for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do.”

More to follow…

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