A simplified approach to localised coronavirus restrictions based on tiers is due in the coming days, Matt Hancock has told MPs.
The Health Secretary made the comments after Conservative former Cabinet minister Alun Cairns warned that the “myriad” of different forms of restrictions “can become confusing”.
While Mr Hancock did not confirm the system, which has been widely discussed in Whitehall for the last few weeks, he said he would update MPs in coming days.
On Saturday, Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough became the latest areas to be put under tighter restrictions following a rise in cases.
Acknowledging the work of the devolved administrations, Mr Hancock told the Commons: “I think the proposals that we are working through and I’ll bring to this House to have a more simplified approach to the local action needed, we have shared that approach with the devolved administrations.”
He added: “It is the sort of approach that would simplify further were it undertaken across the UK, but of course that’s a decision for the Welsh Government in Wales and for the devolved (administrations) because public health decisions are devolved.
“I’d urge the Welsh Government to work, well, they are working with us, and I’d urge (Mr Cairns), who is a very strong voice in Wales, to try to persuade the Welsh Government to take that sort of approach right across the whole of the principality.”
Mr Hancock also said it is “critical” the UK’s Covid-19 rules are “clear at a local level” so the public can “be certain of what they need to do” to suppress the virus
He said: “I’ll update the House in due course on what action the Government is taking so we can have more consistent approaches to levels of local action, working with our colleagues in local government.
“For now, it’s essential that people follow the guidance in their local area.”
He continued: “History shows us that the battle against any pandemic is never quick and never easy. It requires making major sacrifices and difficult choices.
“I know this has been a tough year for so many and we’re asking people to persevere as winter draws in because the only safe path is to suppress the virus, protecting the economy, education and the NHS until a vaccine can make us safe.”
Mr Hancock told the Commons that a combination of a local and national approach to testing and tracing Covid-19 cases is what is needed “to get us through this”.
He said: “It is important that we put more testing resources into the areas where cases are high and it is very, very important that we continue to strengthen the local engagement with the national system.”
The Health Secretary added: “The challenge is that you also need the scale of the national system so that where there’s an outbreak you can bring huge amounts of resources to bear and make sure we can really target the support, for instance for contact tracing. So, it’s the combination of the local and the national that’s going to get us through this.”
The Government will also take clinical advice on the deployment of a Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Hancock explained.
Conservative MP Greg Clark, who chairs the Science and Technology Committee, said: “(Mr Hancock) and everyone in the House hopes there will be a safe and effective vaccine available during the months ahead.
“But the head of the Vaccine Taskforce (Kate Bingham) has said that she expects it to be available to only half of the population, concentrating on the over-50s and the most vulnerable. Is that (Mr Hancock’s) understanding, and what are the implications for the other half of the population?”
Mr Hancock responded: “The Vaccine Taskforce has done incredibly important work in supporting the scientific development and manufacture of vaccines, and in procuring six different types of vaccine from around the world.
“The work of deploying a vaccine is for my department, working with the NHS and the armed forces, who are helping enormously with the logistical challenge.
“We will take the advice on the deployment of the vaccine based on clinical advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations.”