Boris Johnson led a Downing Street press conference this evening on the day England’s national lockdown rules were eased for the second time this month.
The Prime Minister was joined in the new Number 9 briefing room by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
From today (March 29), the “stay at home” order was scrapped with groups of up to six people, or two households, allowed to socialise in parks and gardens while outdoor sports facilities were permitted to reopen.
Mr Johnson said he was hopeful another lockdown will not be needed to combat the deadly virus as it is confirmed the UK has signed a deal for 60 million vaccines.
He told the nation it has been a “big day for many of us” but urged people to “proceed with caution” as lockdown eases further.
Here are the key lockdown and vaccine announcement’s from today’s press conference:
Today is a “big day for many of us” – PM
Boris Johnson has said the new freedoms being enjoyed in England as lockdown eases were the result of the sacrifices made over recent months but warned it was “inevitable” there were more deaths to come.
At the Downing Street press conference, he said it has been a “big day for many of us” with the first chance to see friends and family outdoors since the lockdown was imposed.
“It’s only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today and we must proceed with caution,” he said.
“It’s great to see that yesterday we recorded the lowest number of new infections for six months, deaths and hospital admissions across the UK are continuing to fall.
“That wave is still rising across the channel and it’s inevitable, as we advance on this road map, that there will be more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths.”
Foreign travel announcement
Mr Johnson said the Government will be saying more on travel abroad on April 5.
He said: “I think that the most important thing that we’ve got to do right now as we continue to immunise great numbers of people in this country is to protect our country insofar as we can, it’s never going to be perfect, but do as much as we can to prevent the virus coming back in from abroad and new variants coming in from abroad.
“So, the rules about what you can do, what people can do, to see their families abroad will be governed entirely by the rules that cover travel abroad and people coming from abroad.
“At the moment, as you know, it’s still forbidden to travel, we’ll be saying a bit more on April 5 about what the global travel taskforce has come up with.
“Clearly, at the moment there are lots of countries that are on a red list, 35 countries are on a red list, where we have very stringent measures in place for them, for people arriving from those countries.”
He added: “We will be saying more about seeing family abroad and travel abroad, but it won’t be until at least April 5.”
Hugging grandparents this Easter
When asked if grandparents could hug grandchildren this Easter, if they have had both vaccines, Prof Whitty said vaccines provide increasing levels of protection but there is still some vulnerability.
He also said to keep rates down, people should refrain from it, given they may be surrounded by people who have not been vaccinated.
Prof Whitty added: “We are getting there steadily.”
“Cautious” road map approach needed
The Prime Minister said the relaxation of restrictions would be “prized” by people but emphasised the need for a “cautious” approach along the road map.
He said: “The whole point about the road map and the timescale that we have got is that it gives us a chance to evaluate the data as we go forward.”
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said next week would be the earliest at which the impact of reopening schools would be assessed.
“At that point we will be able to give the recommendations,” he said.
While “everything is moving in the right direction”, a formal data analysis was needed, he added.
Mr Johnson added that he believed the public understood the need for “caution” when easing lockdown restrictions as part of the road map.
“I know how much Government has asked of the people in the last year, but I also know how magnificently – incredible patience and fortitude – people have responded,” he told a Downing Street
“It’s my view, overwhelmingly, people are determined to continue to do that and they do understand the need for caution.
“I think overwhelmingly people understand that when it comes to this road map, the better we stick to it, the more cautious we are, the better the chance we have of making sure that it is indeed irreversible and we’re able to go forward in the way that we want.”
The Prime Minister also said that being cautious is the “way to get the results that we want”.
He said: “Already because of the relaxation that we’ve seen, almost certainly because of the opening of schools again, you’re starting to see some of those graphs slightly curl a bit like old British Rail sandwiches, moving upwards a little bit in the younger groups.
“You’ve seen what’s happening on the continent and we’ve seen that happen before, that’s why it’s so vital that, you know, we do what we’re doing right now.
“We continue to fortify the population, roll out the vaccine at the speed that we are, make sure, as Chris and Patrick say, everybody gets their second dose when they’re asked to come forward, when they’re given their turn.
“But, you know, just make sure that we are cautious in our approach, I think that’s the way to get the results that we want.”
Who is now more likely to catch Covid?
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that those most likely to catch and transmit Covid-19 were those in the “younger, unvaccinated group”.
“The majority of transmission is in younger age groups who have not yet been vaccinated, unless people have got pre-existing health conditions, or they are a health or social care worker, or care for someone who is vulnerable,” he told the Downing Street press conference.
“We therefore anticipate that as there is gradual unlocking in the way the Prime Minister has described, it is inevitable that there will be some increase in the number of cases.
“Because the people who are most likely to catch and transmit Covid are in that younger, unvaccinated group.
“So, the vaccination has had a really big impact on helping to protect against people dying from Covid, although it is not a complete protection, but it will have less impact on transmission because of this age distribution.”
Two risks to UK from rising Europe cases
Prof Whitty said there were two risks for the UK from rising cases in Europe and elsewhere – the chance of importing cases and the “much bigger” concern of variants which might reduce the impact of the vaccines.
He said: “Are we concerned about what’s happening in Europe and elsewhere?
“Anybody would be concerned about any country in the world where rates are going up because that has a big impact on people’s health and lives.
“As citizens of the world, we would all be concerned about any of those countries.”
In the long term there would be ways of dealing with the problems posed by variants but “in the short term that is the principal
‘High likelihood’ Covid cases will rise again
Prof Whitty said there was a “high likelihood” that transmission rates will increase when restrictions ease, but it could be “modest” if people follow social distancing guidelines.
“Yes, there is a high likelihood that there will be some uptick as a result of the relaxations today, and that was anticipated right from the beginning of trying to lay out where the road map would go,” he told a Downing Street briefing.
Referring to a graph which said the high proportion of those catching and transmitting Covid-19 have not yet been vaccinated, he said: “I would not anticipate that vaccination will reduce transmission between people in those ages at all at this point in time.
“But, and this is the big but, the point the Prime Minister was making, that has been stressed repeatedly, is that if people stick to social distancing rules and they are outside, the risk of transmission is massively lower than if they are very close together and inside.
“Provided people stick to outdoors and at a distance if it’s people who are not in their households, the impact in terms of an uptick should be modest.
“I think it would not be realistic to think there will be no impact, and that is something we are all aware of.”
Police work in pandemic defended
Boris Johnson defended the police’s work in enforcing coronavirus regulations.
“The police have done an absolutely outstanding job throughout this pandemic,” he said.
“I think they have handed out about 70,000 fines at least for various breaches of one kind or another.
“I make no apology for that.
“They will continue to do their best but it depends – more than it depends on the police, it depends on general public understanding of what we have all got to do.”
PM also defends border measures
Mr Johnson insisted the UK had one of the toughest border regimes in the world as he was questioned why France had not been added to the “red list” as a result of rising cases and the prevalence of variants of concern.
He explained: “We have one of the toughest regimes in the world … many European countries don’t even have the hotel quarantine of the kind that we have in the UK.
“There are 35 countries already on the red list, we are looking very closely at what’s going on in France, we keep it under constant review.”
But the flow of medicine and food across the English Channel meant “we have to make sure we manage the disruption as well” if tougher measures are imposed.
Can Boris rule out another national lockdown?
Asked to guarantee that there would not be another lockdown, Boris Johnson said yes, but with “at least two very important provisos”.
He said: “Yes, if everybody obviously continues to obey the guidance with sufficient caution and we continue to work together to keep the virus under control, get it down, in the way that we have.
“And, yes, if the vaccine rollout continues and the vaccines continue to be as effective as it looks as though they could be, or looks as though they are.”
The Prime Minister said he was “hopeful” about progress, adding: “I don’t see anything in the data right now that would cause us to deviate from the road map.
“We have got to remain humble in the face of nature and we have got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the British public.”
Second dose supply
Mr Johnson said there is no need for people to worry about a shortage of the Pfizer vaccine for a second dosage.
He said: “There isn’t any need to worry about shortage of Pfizer for the second dose as far as we can see at the moment.
“We’re going to continue to roll that out and supply that, and, as I said, April is going to be the second dose month.
“It’s very important that everybody gets their second dose.”
‘Wall of vaccinations is a leaky wall’
Prof Whitty said that the “wall of vaccination” will get stronger once people receive their second doses.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “What Patrick’s slide, I think, showed is that we do have a kind of a wall of vaccination that will get stronger with the second vaccines, and I want to repeat my emphasis it is critical people get their second vaccine.
“But it is not a complete wall, it is a kind of leaky wall. Therefore, there will always be some people who either have chosen not to be vaccinated, or where the vaccine has had much less effect.
“If we get a small surge, there will be cases of people who have been vaccinated who will have severe disease, and there will be cases of people who are not vaccinated, a much higher proportion, who will get severe disease, and some of those will go on to die.
“If you get a very big wave, that would obviously lead to a significant impact. So that’s the reason why the Prime Minister and ministers have been absolutely determined that this is a slow and steady unlocking, looking at data between each step.”
Vaccine for health and care home staff
Prof Whitty has stressed the responsibility that health and care staff had to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
“Certainly, when we are talking about medical or nursing staff, I have said before and I will say very unambiguously: I do consider people who are looking after other people who are very vulnerable do have a professional responsibility to get vaccinated and to do other things that help protect the people who they are looking after.”
He was responding to figures which showed just 45% of older adult care staff in Lambeth, south London, have received a first dose.
Prof Whitty said the “great majority” of care staff nationally had received the vaccine.
In a message to care staff, he said the vaccine “will protect you and your family”, and stressed the need to seek out reliable sources of information to counter “some misinformation” about the jabs.
“Compared to the risk of Covid, the risk of the vaccines is much smaller,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
60 million new vaccine doses
The Prime Minister confirmed that a deal had been done with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to provide “fill and finish” capacity at its Barnard Castle facility in the North East of England for the Novavax vaccine.
Mr Johnson said the collaboration will be “giving us between 50 and 60 million doses of UK-made vaccine”, subject to approval from regulators.
The Prime Minister also stressed the benefits of exercise to build the UK’s “resilience” to the virus, saying “I am personally thrilled that I will be able to play tennis, for instance”.
“Without being remotely preachy, I do hope that we can take advantage of this moment and the beautiful weather to play sport, to take exercise, to have fun and build our national resilience in that way too.”
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