Summer holidays are likely to be cancelled this year, the health secretary warned, as he said the public need to prepare for the “reality of life” in a period of physical distancing.
Matt Hancock appeared on ITV’s This Morning just 24 hours after the government was severely criticised by the presenter Phillip Schofield for its messaging on how the country would leave the lockdown.
In their exchange, Hancock said it was “likely to be the case” that summer holidays were effectively cancelled.
The minister also clarified it was possible to see one parent and then another outdoors “10 minutes apart” but that giving people social hugs would only be possible after a treatment or vaccine would be found, which at the earliest could be in the autumn.
“We will seek to reopen hospitality from early July if we keep successfully reducing the spread of this virus but I think social distancing of some kind is going to continue,” Hancock said.
“And the conclusion from that is that it’s unlikely big lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer. I just think that’s a reality of life.”
The government has been criticised for the way it has handled the communication around its roadmap out of lockdown plan, with a televised address by the prime minister giving the impression people should return to work if possible from Monday. It emerged later changes are due on Wednesday.
Johnson is also under fire for not announcing the strategy first in parliament.
Hancock batted away suggestions the government’s messaging on the way out of lockdown had been confusing for the public, and said: “I’m here to try to make sure that everybody understands as best as possible what we’re trying to achieve. I think we were quite clear.”
He said his constituents “get it” but admitted he thought it best to go on the daytime TV show in person after watching the criticism levelled at the government on Monday.
Earlier he said social “bubbles” that allow for two households in England to mix should soon help with the “anguish” of not being able to see family members.
In a round of broadcast interviews, he said the government had to draw a line somewhere when limiting social contact, and one-to-one meetings outdoors was a reasonable way to “protect everybody against that burgeoning into large groups of people”.
He said it was sensible to limit such meetings to public places rather than private gardens, because the latter could require people to walk through one another’s houses, which was less safe.
Hancock also tried to explain why childminders were being allowed to go back to work but people could not rely on their relatives for childcare. “For some people’s livelihoods they need a childminder in order to earn an income and so that is important we allow that to happen,” he said.
“But at the same time we don’t want to encourage the large scale, we don’t want to encourage people, especially when grandparents are older, and we know this virus kills more older people than younger people, so we don’t want to encourage kids to stay with their grandparents, but we do want to allow people, where possible, to get back to work.”
Johnson has been criticised for failing to acknowledge the pain felt by people being kept apart from their wider families, despite the guidance being very slightly changed to allow one-to-one contact between members of different households outdoors.
Hancock said he understood people were upset about not being able to see relatives and partners and signalled that further loosening of the rules in the coming weeks would help to address that.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It will help if we can do it in a way that doesn’t impact on R. I think it will help with this anguish of a lot of people wanting to see family members in another household, whether that’s a grandparent – although there are the risks for older grandparents – or for people who are in a relationship but are in different households, and I understand that yearning as well.”
Hancock also defended the policy of allowing people to drive to beauty spots, despite concerns about the potential for crowds to gather. He said there should not be a problem if “people socially distance when they get there, and hence we’ve kept the socially distancing rules very clearly in place”, adding: “This isn’t for people to move house or to go on holiday or to be able to stay.”
There is concern about the prospect of being encouraged to go back to work from Wednesday when guidance on safety standards is only being published on Tuesday.
The health secretary refused to directly answer whether people had a legal right not to go to work if they did not feel safe due to coronavirus, when twice asked on BBC Breakfast.
He said it needed to be a “collaborative effort” between employees and employers, stressing that “absolutely, workplaces need to follow the guidelines on making a workplace safe for Covid [and], critically, everybody who can work from home should continue to work from home”.