Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that while he is wary of the prospects of rising Covid-19 infection rates, he sees “absolutely nothing in the data” to stop the easing of lockdown in England.
Johnson said that cases could increase as restrictions are lifted, but that the “key difference” this time is that the rise in infections should be “sufficiently mitigated” by the vaccine rollout.
‘Promising evidence that vulnerable are protected’
During a discussion at the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum, the Prime Minister said that a “third wave” is being witnessed in parts of Europe and “bitter experience” has taught him that this could hit the UK “three weeks later”.
Johnson said: “The question is - is it going to be, this time, as bad as it has been in the past? Or have we sufficiently mitigated, muffled, blunted the impact by the vaccine rollout?
“There’s lots of promising evidence that a lot of people who could be vulnerable are now protected against death and serious disease, that’s my hope, my hunch.
“But we haven’t yet seen the real conclusive proof in the sense that we haven’t seen a take off in infection rates that hasn’t been accompanied by a lot of hospitalisations and deaths. That’ll be the key difference this time round, if we’re lucky.”
‘Get back to the life we love’
The Prime Minister, however, remained optimistic that the roadmap to lifting England’s Covid-19 restrictions can continue, stating that there is a “good chance” of allowing non-essential retail reopening on 12 April, which is when hairdressers are earmarked to reopen.
He said: “In just a few days’ time, I'm finally going to be able to go to the barbers.
“But more than that, I’m going to be able to go down the street and cautiously, but irreversibly, I’m going to drink a pint of beer in the pub.
“As things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our roadmap to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.”
‘Potential to be fantastic’
At the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum, Johnson said: “I think the second half of the year will have the potential to be really fantastic.
“But it depends on things still going right.
“We depend on the successful vaccine programme and disease not taking off again.”
‘One extreme to the other’
The Government announced that retailers in England will be able to stay open until 10pm, six days a week, when they are permitted to trade again from 12 April.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that it will allow them to reopen “safely”, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak encouraged people to “go have fun” but spending their savings.
However, Dr Mike TIdesley, infectious disease expert at Warwick University and who advises the Government on the Spi-M modelling group, warned against Sunak’s choice of language for “flipping from one extreme to the other”.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “I totally understand the need to reinvigorate the economy, but I think we need slightly more measured language here, to encourage people to do that, but to do it within the rules, to make sure that we observe social distancing.”
Additional reporting by PA