New health secretary Sajid Javid on Sunday said he wants England to return to normal life “as quickly as possible”, in a sign that he will become a powerful voice for ending all Covid-19 restrictions next month.
While Javid’s predecessor Matt Hancock took a cautious approach to reopening the economy, Javid has long argued that coronavirus restrictions have blighted young lives and contributed to mental health problems.
“We are still in a pandemic and I want to see that come to an end as soon as possible,” he said in his first statement as health secretary. “I want to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible.”
Boris Johnson on Sunday held talks with Javid and other senior ministers on whether the remaining restrictions in England could be lifted on July 5 — an interim review point ahead of the scheduled full reopening on July 19.
The latest government data show that 14,876 new coronavirus cases were reported on Sunday. Cases in the past seven days have risen 58.7 per cent compared to the previous week, reflecting the rapid spread of the Delta variant across the UK.
Hospital admissions — which lag cases — rose by a more modest 10.3 per cent on a weekly basis. A total of 61.6 per cent of the adult population has now received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, with just over 84 per cent having had one jab.
Allies of Javid admitted that July 19 remained the “default” setting for lifting the remaining restrictions, and that current government thinking was that more time was needed to carry out more vaccinations.
While Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove previously formed a powerful cabinet bloc in urging a cautious approach to lifting restrictions, Javid will join chancellor Rishi Sunak in urging a full reopening next month.
Johnson has said he sees July 19 as the “terminus point” for the restrictions.
Meanwhile a security review has been launched into the events surrounding Hancock’s resignation as health secretary on Saturday after images of him kissing an adviser in his London office were passed to a tabloid newspaper.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis confirmed the health department was conducting the review, while allies of Hancock said he was unaware that his Whitehall office was under surveillance.
Hancock quit after admitting he had breached the government’s social distancing guidelines by kissing his adviser Gina Coladangelo in May.
Pictures and video of Hancock’s embrace with Coladangelo were published by The Sun newspaper.
“We have got to be concerned about the fact that someone was able to secure a recording from inside a government building,” Lewis told the BBC.
Emcor, a US listed company, confirmed that it has a long-running contract to provide security services for the Department of Health and Social Care. Its website says it provides bespoke security systems, including CCTV, access control systems, risk mitigation advice as well as guards.
But Emcor declined to provide additional information or whether it managed security cameras in the health department or was running its own internal investigation into the source of the leak.
Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said Johnson should have sacked Hancock on Friday when The Sun published its story, rather than wait 24 hours for his minister to resign.
“If Boris Johnson had any backbone, he would have removed him,” she added.