Covid: UK ahead of roadmap dates says Matt Hancock but warns of threat of Europe wave of infections

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The UK is ahead of the dates set out in the government's roadmap to easing coronavirus restrictions, the health secretary has said but warned of the treat of a European third wave of Covid infections heading to Britain.

Matt Hancock said despite the success of the "spectacular" vaccination programme, that has seen half of all adults in the UK receive at least one dose, rising cases in Europe posed a "challenge" ahead of restrictions in England being lifted.

"We're on track to deliver against the dates set out in the roadmap," Mr Hancock told ITV News.

"The vaccination programme has been absolutely spectacular.

"We've vaccinated now, we've done 30 million vaccines in total, if you combine the first doses and now the second doses which are happening at great pace."

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He continued: "The challenge we face is that our near neighbours are seeing this third wave, we've seen the action taken by Germany late last night, and by France in the last few days to tackle their rising number of cases.

"And we've seen in the first and then the second wave, that this wave from Europe, as the prime minister put it, crashed against our shores. We have to do everything we can to prevent that and keep people safe here."

Mr Hancock said he understood "why people are yearning for a holiday" but added it was "too early to say" whether holidays abroad would be allowed this summer. He said determining whether travel after 17 May will be permitted depended on the data.

Keeping out new variants that may be more resilient to Covid vaccines was a priority, he said.

"Crucially we don't want to see a rise here in the number of new variant that might not be dealt with as effectively by the vaccine," Mr Hancock said. "The vaccine may not give you the same protection against new variants as against the coronavirus you can catch here in the UK.

"That is at the core of the challenge." Earlier, Mr Hancock defended current border measures, insisting they are protecting the UK from new variants coming from abroad.

Mr Hancock said there were currently no plans to put all of the continent on the travel "red list", despite Boris Johnson warning the impact of Europe's third wave would hit the UK "in due course".

Several regions of France have returned to a month-long lockdown to cope with the rise in infections, while hospitals in Italy are once again filling up with coronavirus patients.

Speaking on LBC, Mr Hancock said: "We do have this red list and the amber list, and at the moment that is working well".

He said there were no plans to add Europe to the "red list" that requires mandatory hotel quarantine for 10 days.

A couple have dinner in an empty restaurant next to the beach in Barcelona, Spain. Credit: AP

His comments come amid growing unease about the threat of Europe's third wave on infections.

A member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned there is a "likelihood" of a third wave of coronavirus in the UK over summer.

Professor Calum Semple told Sky News: "The concern at present is that in countries where there’s less vaccination and a very strong third wave, that’s the perfect breeding ground for further variants of concern.

"So, at this point, Britain has got its act together, the concern is as this third wave is going on elsewhere, that will generate new variations."

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"Even within Britain there is a likelihood of a third wave in potentially July and August time when we do unlock society.

"That third wave we would expect to occur in people that are less susceptible to very severe disease.

"It’s inevitable as we unlock there will be a rise in cases, the key here is have we won the race to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of society so we can keep society open this time."

On Tuesday, the country will mark a year since the first full Covid lockdown.

A nationwide minute's silence is being held at midday to remember the 126,172 people who have died from the virus, and the many more lives that have been impacted.

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