Coronavirus 'back under control' as England to be plunged into harsher Tiers system, Matt Hancock says

CORONAVIRUS infections are now "back under control" – just as England is set to be plunged into a harsher Tiers system, Matt Hancock said tonight.

The Health Secretary hailed the latest figures showing case rates going down after the month-long lockdown, just as the nation is about to be shoved into a harsh system of tiers keeping pubs closed and stopping people from seeing friends and family.

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Speaking at the No10 press conference tonight, he claimed that the lockdown has worked in "reducing the pressures on the NHS" and "hope is on the horizon" for Spring.

He stated: "We've got this virus back under control, I want to thank you for that."

And Professor Stephen Powis of NHS England said today that in recent days "we have started to turn the corner" on hospital admissions.

It takes a couple of weeks before the effects of a national lockdown to be shown, he explained today.

He added: "It will be the next week or two where we see the full effects come through."

The average number of new coronavirus cases has plummeted from a peak of 25,331 in mid-November to 14,778.

Crucially, the R rate – the rate of the transmission of the virus – is just below 1.

This means the national lockdown will be allowed to end in what Mr Hancock and people will be able to reunite with families over Christmas.

But the Health Secretary warned there was not much "headroom" and it was still vital new cases continued to go down.

He said: "Everyone in England can have some greater freedoms but we don't have much headroom.

"We can't allow cases to rise again in the run up to Christmas and with the flu season around the corner."

More than 23 million people will be under harsh Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday to try and keep infection rates down in the worst-hit areas.

And this will cause even more heartache for restaurants and pubs who will be forced to close.

Mr Hancock said he hoped mass testing would be able to offer a way for areas to free themselves from the worst of the local lockdown rules.

He said: "(Community testing) will give Tier 3 areas a faster way out of toughest restrictions and come down the Tier ladder.

"By using tests that can turn results around in under 30 mins, we can identify and isolate people who have Covid, and the one in three who don't have symptoms."

Asymptomatic cases of coronavirus are a "silent danger", the Health Secretary warned.

A handful of areas have already taken up the Government's offer – including Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

Sir Gordon Messenger, the Head of Operations for the Community testing program, admitted he didn't know how many of the 23 million people under the toughest restrictions they would be able to swab.

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