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Cabinet resumes meetings in person as Government steps up vaccine efforts

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland arrives in Downing Street, after attending a Cabinet meeting, that was held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London. By Kirsty O'Connor

By Jess Glass, PA

Boris Johnson has assembled his Cabinet in person for the first time in four months, as the Government presses ahead with plans to secure millions of doses of a potential Covid-19 vaccine.

Senior ministers are meeting in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office rather than the smaller Cabinet room in Downing Street to allow for proper social distancing.

It comes after a study suggested a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford was safe and induces an immune reaction, which was branded “encouraging” by the scientific community.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam responded in The Sun, saying he was “cautiously optimistic that by late next spring there will be several vaccines that will have made it. And my confidence is increasing”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, one of the ministers expected at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, later praised the work of British health officials, saying they had “played a blinder” and claiming the virus was “on the back foot”.

Mr Hancock is likely to be quizzed on the vaccines and the latest NHS Test and Trace results when he appears before the Commons Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, former Conservatives leader William Hague has called for the Government to recognise it has a “gap” in its pandemic response and implement more thorough testing.

He wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “Mass testing, using tests still being developed but which could give results at the point of use, might be the only way to spot new outbreaks quickly enough and give people the confidence to go back to the office, the airport and big indoor events.”

Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting – the first in person since March 17 – also comes after the Government signed deals for 90 million doses of other promising Covid-19 vaccines.

This latest deal was made with a pharmaceutical giant alliance between firms BioNtech and Pfizer as well as Valneva.

The Government is aiming to build a portfolio of potential vaccines, alongside effective treatments for coronavirus.

The latest announcement is for 30 million doses of a vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer, 60 million doses from Valneva, with an option to acquire a further 40 million doses if needed. It follows an agreement for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine.

Meanwhile Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced public sector workers on the frontline of the pandemic would receive a pay rise.

Almost 900,000 workers including doctors, teachers and police officers will be given an above-inflation pay rise following a testing few months since Covid-19 hit the UK.

Each award is recommended by independent pay review bodies, and this year the Government has accepted the suggested rise for each workforce.

The Health and Social Care Committee will also meet on Tuesday and will hear evidence from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty as part of the committee’s inquiry into the management of the coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy Chief Medical Officers Dr Jenny Harries and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam are also set to give evidence.

It follows the publication of research which found around 3,500 lives may be lost to four common cancers over the next five years due to delays in diagnosis caused by Covid-19.

A drop-off in the number of people seeing their GP with symptoms, and lower referrals for scans, could result in cancer being spotted too late, according to research published in The Lancet Oncology on Tuesday.

Briefings from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales will also take place on Tuesday afternoon, with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford now holding weekly press conferences after ending his daily updates last week.

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