Mr Hancock replied “we do not rule that out” when asked about the prospect of specific areas having different restrictions compared to the rest of the country to deal with the risk posed by Covid-19 variants, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “The approach we’re taking in Bolton and Blackburn is to absolutely pile in testing and vaccinations to try to get on top of this.
“When we had an outbreak of the South African variant in south London last month we put in a huge amount, hundreds of thousands of tests in surge testing – people came forward in their droves across Southwark and Lambeth and Wandsworth, and we got that under control.”
Mr Hancock added: “We’re taking the same approach in Bolton and Blackburn, we’ve put in a huge amount of testing, we’ve reinforced that with Army personnel as well, and we’re expanding the vaccination programme – especially for those second jabs which are the best protection against ending up in hospital.
“So at the moment we’re taking the approach that worked in south London – which is this massive surge testing – but of course we don’t rule out further action.
“Given though Bolton has been in some form of kind of a lockdown for a year, it’s not a step we want to take but of course we might have to take it and we will if it’s necessary to protect people.”
Matt Hancock also left the door open on reversing the easing of restrictions if the Indian variant proves to be very highly transmissible.
He said: “I very much hope not and our goal remains, our strategy remains, to take a cautious and irreversible approach to ensure that we’re always looking at the data all the way through, and crucially to use the vaccine to get us out of this pandemic.”
Mr Hancock defended the timing of when the Government put India on the travel “red list” although sidestepped questions on whether the decision was linked to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s planned – and then postponed – trip to the country.
The Health Secretary told Sky News: “This variant was notified as a variant under investigation after we’d already put India on the red list. The decision to put India on the red list was taken because of the high positivity rate of people coming from India and looking at the epi-curve in India.
“When we put Pakistan on the red list at the start of April that’s because the proportion of people testing positive coming in from Pakistan was three times higher the proportion coming from India, and it was only after we put India on the red list that this variant went under investigation, and then earlier this month it became a variant of concern.”
Asked about the impact of Mr Johnson’s planned trip to India in late April in a bid to assist trade talks, Mr Hancock replied: “We take these decisions based on the evidence.”
He then went on to repeat comments made about the Government’s approach to India.