Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set out the four measures that need to be met in order for lockdown in England to be lifted.
The enhanced Tier Four rules come into force across England this week – closing schools, pubs, shops, restaurants and cafes and ordering people to stay at home.
The rules will stay in place until at least the middle of February and could last until the end of March.
Mr Hancock was questioned by MPs on how and when the lockdown will end.
He said there are four measures that need to be met in order for lockdown to be eased.
- That there isn’t another major, new variant that is causing difficulties
- The vaccination program is working
- The number of hospitalisations is coming down
- The number of deaths is coming down
Mr Hancock told MPs: “We’ve set out the conditions that we’ll look at for the relaxation of the restrictions.”
The Health Secretary said he believed the current national lockdown in England could be the last, as he pinned his hopes on the coronavirus vaccines.
Matt Hancock warned there was “no doubt” that vaccines and testing would be needed next year as it was still uncertain how long immunity lasted with the jabs.
“We will need both the surveillance testing to be able to understand where the virus is and we will need testing for people who have symptoms, in the same way that you get tested for all sorts of other things,” he told the Health and Social Care Committee on Thursday.
On vaccines, Mr Hancock said: “I anticipate we will probably need to revaccinate because we don’t know the longevity of the protection from these vaccines.
“We don’t know how frequently it will be, but it might need to be every six months, it might need to be every year.”
Asked if he thought this would be the “last of the lockdowns” because of the vaccines, Mr Hancock said: “I do, yes.”
His comments came as the Government announced nearly 1.5 million people had now been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said “if all goes well” then hundreds of thousands of vaccines could be administered per day by January 15.
A third national lockdown in England was announced on Monday, with all schools forced to shut to most students.
People across the country are being urged to stay at home other than for limited exceptions, with measures expected to last until mid-February.