Hancock ‘WRONG’ for blaming surge of Indian strain over vaccine hesitancy, says Bolton MP

Matt Hancock says Indian variant cases have 'doubled'

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It came after the Health Secretary said that the majority of people in hospital with COVID-19 in Bolton were eligible for the vaccine but have not had it. On Sunday, Mr Hancock told Times Radio: “I suppose the number one lesson from this episode is that if you are eligible, you should come forward and get the jab.

“If you want to know why that’s important, the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus in Bolton this morning are eligible for the jab but haven’t had it yet – [that] is the strongest point of why it’s so important for everybody to come forward and get this jab.”

Mr Hancock told MPs on Monday that 2,323 cases of the variant known as B.1.617.2 had been confirmed – up from 1,313 on Thursday.

He added that 483 cases of the Indian strain have been confirmed in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where the variant is now the dominant strain.

However, Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, said Mr Hancock was “wrong” to accuse local residents of vaccine hesitancy.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight on Monday, Ms Qureshi said: “You have to understand that the whole thing was rolled out in parts of Bolton. Now different parts of Bolton are in different situations.”

She explained that “when the rollout was done it was done in one place in the town centre with about only six vaccinators to cover a huge area and a huge population.

“They were not able to get to people. So for example some people had to use two or three buses to get into the town centre.

“A lot of these people are also people who are on zero hour contracts and live in intergenerational homes.”

Ms Qureshi said she and some councillors realised that jabs were not reaching people in these areas so they wrote to local authorities and the NHS to ask for more vaccination centres for those people to access.

In Bolton, a rapid response team has been deployed into the area, including 50 additional vaccinators, the opening of two new vaccination centres and six testing centres in response to the fears over the Indian variant.

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Ms Qureshi explained that now more centres have been set up in Bolton “thousands of people turned up” to get vaccinated.

She added: “So it’s wrong for him [Mr Hancock] to say it was hesitancy over the vaccine, it wasn’t.”

Videos posted on social media have shown queues of people in Bolton lining up for a COVID-19 jab since the Government increased vaccinations in the region.

Over the weekend, the rate of vaccination in the town trebled, with more than 6,200 receiving a jab.

The Indian variant has spread to 86 areas across the country, including parts of London and Bedford.

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