Government denies ‘herd immunity’ is policy for tackling coronavirus

Health secretary Matt Hancock on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire.

Health secretary Matt Hancock on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Health secretary Matt Hancock has denied suggestions the government is attempting to achieve 'herd immunity' as a solution to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hancock said that ministers would 'listen to all the credible scientists' after coming under criticism for not introducing more stringent measures sooner.

The government has acted slower than many other nations in ordering businesses to close and banning large gatherings to stymie the spread of Covid-19.

In part, prime minister Boris Johnson fears introducing 'draconian' measures too quickly could see the public ignore them.

But England's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance also said this approach could be beneficial by creating herd immunity.

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This is where much of the population is protected from a contagious disease because a significant portion has become immune through either having survived an infection or been immunised.

This approach has been criticised by a group of 229 scientists from UK universities, who said it risks 'many more lives than necessary', and called into question by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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Hancock told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: 'What we will do is listen to all the credible scientists and we will look at all the evidence.

'Herd immunity is not our goal or policy, it's a scientific concept. Our policy is to protect lives and to beat this virus.'

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His response came after the group of scientists wrote an open letter arguing that 'going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary'.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris has also said 'action' is needed over 'theories' while there is insufficient knowledge of the science of the coronavirus.

The government has also been facing widespread calls to publish the models and data that officials are relying on to make decisions in tackling the pandemic.

Hancock insisted they will make this available in the 'next couple of days'.

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