By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – Coronavirus is “back under control” in the UK, but the virus remains in circulation, Britain’s health secretary told a press briefing on Monday.
Still, Matt Hancock said the virus’ R rate, or rate of reproduction, is now just below 1.
This means if it stays at that level, the virus will not spread exponentially. He urged people to follow the rules over the holiday season, even if the rules have been recently relaxed to a degree.
Hancock added that the UK has 357 million doses of seven different vaccines. He also said that the government will work with local authorities in England to use mass testing to help them bring down the tiered system of restrictions.
Meanwhile, a study by Imperial College London found that coronavirus cases dropped 30% over the course of the second national lockdown, driven at least in part by cases in the north of England falling by over half.
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said that shops will be allowed to be open 24 hours a day over the Christmas period in an effort to help them get back on their feet after a year of lockdowns and restrictions, as well as help boost the economy.
He announced the national measure in a column for pro-government Daily Telegraph, saying: “With these changes local shops can open longer, ensuring more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport.
“How long will be a matter of choice for the shopkeepers and at the discretion of the council, but I suggest we offer these hard-pressed entrepreneurs and businesses the greatest possible flexibility this festive season.
“As local government secretary I am relaxing planning restrictions and issuing an unambiguous request to councils to allow businesses to welcome us into their glowing stores late into the evening and beyond.”
In Wales, the devolved government announced a raft of measures to control the pandemic.
Pubs and restaurants in Wales will be banned from selling alcohol and forced to shut at 6 p.m. every evening. The measures come into effect as of 6 p.m. this Friday, when movie theaters, bowling alleys, and other indoor entertainment must also shut.
UK government data released on Monday showed that there were 12,330 new cases of people testing positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours across the UK.
This is a fall of 33,369, or 24.4%, over the last week. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at nearly 1.63 million.
The data also showed that there were a further 205 deaths over the past 24 hours across the UK.
This is an increase of 138, or 4.5%, over the last week. The total number of deaths now stands at 58,448.