Speaking to Sky News, Hancock said the data gave the government a high degree of confidence.
“There is new, very early data out from Oxford University. And I would stress that this is from the labs, it’s not clinical data, and it is very early,” he said, “but it does give us that degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant.”
Hancock said it means the UK government can “stay on course” with its strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic.
“We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome,” the health secretary said.
England is approaching the third step of the government’s road map to reopen the country. From Monday, up to six people or people from two households will be allowed to meet indoors, and 30 people can gather outdoors; indoor hospitality businesses can reopen, and the “new guidance on meeting friends and family will emphasise personal responsibility rather than government rules,” according to the government.
Asked if the next step should be delayed due to concerns from the Indian variant, Hancock said it will go ahead as planned because all criteria had been met, but the Indian variant may still knock the road map off course later.
“We’ve said at each step, we will look at the four tests that we have. … And our assessment was all four are met,” Hancock said.
“The fourth of those four tests is whether a new variant knocks us off course. And we’ll of course be assessing that over the weeks to come.”
The last step of the road map, which is due on June 21, will see off all of the legal restrictions. Hancock said the final decision will be made a week ahead of the date.
“We’ll make a final decision for the step four, which is the biggest step on the road map. We’ll make that final decision on the June 14,” he said.
According to data from Public Health England (PHE), cases of the Indian variant nearly doubled from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK. Four people have now died from the variant as of May 12.
Experts have said that “it is a realistic possibility” that the variant is up to 50 percent more transmissible than the UK variant, which was largely responsible for the last peak of cases in the UK.
“It is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, for instance in Bolton and in Blackburn,” Hancock said.
Hancock said the government would not rule out regional restrictions.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he said.
“Given, though, Bolton has been in some form a 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.”
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report.