Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out a “steady as she goes” plan for easing England’s lockdown, with schools and outdoor activities the first in line for a return.
Scotland’s route out of lockdown will not be identical to the UK Government’s but will be “broadly similar”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Mr Johnson is also expected to host a Downing Street press conference at 7pm on Monday alongside key advisers.
You can follow all the updates from the PM’s announcement this afternoon along with his press conference this evening in our dedicated live blog.
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Last updated: Monday, 22 February, 2021, 20:24
Professor Chris Whitty urges public to stick to the rules as lockdown is eased
England’s chief medical officer has warned people to stick to the rules as lockdown is eased, saying there will be a “very rapid surge in infection” if they relax too early.
Professor Chris Whitty acknowledged that easing restrictions would naturally mean “a surge of cases”, with the reproduction number (the R) getting close to, or over, the crucial threshold of 1.
While vaccination would take “lot of the heavy load” in pulling the R down – and many elderly and vulnerable would be protected through having a vaccine – there would be a rise in cases and deaths if the virus was just allowed to let go, he said.
He told the Downing Street press briefing there are still “very significant” numbers of people with coronavirus every day in the UK.
He added: “There are still a lot of people in hospital with this disease. This is not the end, but this is the point where we can have a steady, risk-based, data-driven opening up.
“But everybody must stick to the guidelines as they go through the different stages, because if we don’t do that then we will get to a stage where the rates go up very high and you’ll find there are people who are not protected by the vaccinations.”
It was put to Mr Johnson that he was being “very cautious” and not the “buccaneering Boris who won the election”.
The Prime Minister said: “The crocus of hope is poking through the frost and spring is on its way both literally and metaphorically.
“But I won’t be buccaneering, as you put it, with people’s lives, and nor will anybody in Government.
“I think when people look at this road map I think actually it’s about as dynamic as it’s possible to be under the circumstances and with disease and infection where we are.
“If you’d said to me a few months ago that by June 21 we were going to be in a position where we thought it was really credible to open up everything including nightclubs, I would have struggled to believe you, quite frankly.
“But that’s the miracle of the vaccination programme that has delivered that.”
Boris Johnson acknowledged there were ethical issues around vaccine certificates, a policy idea which the Government is examining.
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “There are clearly some quite complex issues, some ethical issues, issues about discrimination and so on, to what extent can governments either compel or indeed forbid use of such certification.
“I think all that needs to be gone into so we are going to have a review of the whole issue before we come to it.”
But he added: “There may well be a role for certification but we just need to get it right.”
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the success of the vaccination programmes created a “bedrock” to ease lockdown restrictions in England.
At the Downing Street briefing, he said: “The miracle of the vaccines is extraordinary.
“That provides an extraordinary bedrock of success from which to think about moving to a normality as a result of that.
“And the way to do that is to go cautiously as you release, have enough time in between measures to assess what’s going on and take new measures to release when you’re safe to do so, not beforehand.”
The Prime Minister said he could not guarantee the four-stage road map for ending restrictions in England was irreversible but that is what the Government intended.
Speaking at a briefing in Downing Street, Boris Johnson said: “I can’t guarantee it’s going to be irreversible, but the intention is that it should be irreversible.
“That’s why we’re going in the way that we are and that’s why we’re taking the steps that we are.”
He said the five-week interval between each step was needed to ease restrictions cautiously, adding: “This disease is capable, as we have seen, this variant is capable of spreading really very fast when you unlock – we saw that in the end of last year, in January.”
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said sticking to the rules would help minimise the number of deaths due to the easing of restrictions.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “In terms of minimising the number of deaths, it’s about going slowly and it’s about us all sticking with the rules.
“So when there’s a chance to do a bit more, that isn’t an invitation to do a lot more, it’s an invitation to do a bit more.”
That is “how we have got to behave as we go through this rollout”.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people would have to get used to coronavirus, in the same way as flu and pneumonia, which kill thousands each year.
He told a Downing Street press conference: “Every year in the UK, as in every other country, you get substantial numbers of people dying from respiratory infections.”
Flu kills around 9,000 a year, and bad years are “significantly more”, but there are also pneumonia and adenoviruses and other respiratory infections.
“I’m afraid, for the foreseeable future, coronavirus is going to be added to that list of things that those who are vulnerable – even despite vaccination – can be at risk of,” he said.
Prof Whitty said it was “likely to be a problem, in particular, in the winter for the next few winters”.
Boris Johnson said: “This is not the end today but it is very clearly a road map that takes us to the end.”
He told a Downing Street press conference it would be a “one-way journey, we very much hope”.
Prof Whitty said there are still “very significant” numbers of people with coronavirus every day in the UK.
He added: “There is still a lot of people in hospital with this disease. This is not the end, but this is the point where we can have a steady, risk-based, data-driven opening up.
“But everybody must stick to the guidelines as they go through the different stages, because if we don’t do that then we will get to a stage where the rates go up very high and you’ll find there are people who are not protected by the vaccinations.
“These are not 100% effective, as the Prime Minister said.”
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance “completely” agreed with Prof Whitty, adding: “The caution of going every five weeks is very important because we need to measure so that we’re not flying blind on this.
“We need to know what the impact of the opening up steps are.”
Asked whether so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will be used to reopen the economy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at Monday evening’s press conference that other countries will insist upon them to allow people to enter their borders.
The Prime Minister assured there is enough vaccination supply to get every adult the first dose of the coronavirus jab by the end of July.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing on Monday, Boris Johnson said: “We’ve got to make sure that we have the supply in place for everybody to get their second vaccination within 12 weeks, as well as giving every adult, as we said already, a vaccination by the end of July.
“We do believe we have the supplies in place to keep up that rhythm and that timetable.
“And we’re looking the whole time to source more where we can from our suppliers according to the contracts that we’ve already signed.”
He said the UK will support vaccination efforts around the world, adding: “There’s no point in having a vaccination programme that is simply confined to one country, it’s a global pandemic we need a lobal vaccination programme.”
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, explained the importance of the five-week gap between stages in the road map.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he said: “The reason for that is that inevitably for each one of these steps we are taking a risk which is an accepted risk – there is a risk to this, and everybody in the country I’m sure understands this.
“And what we want to do is after each set of risks with a particular set of opening up, wait until we have data that tells us, has this done what we expected it to do, have we actually ended up in a slightly worse place than we thought we would, or have indeed we ended up in a slightly better place?
“But I think the big worry is, have things got slightly worse than we were expecting, and we cannot measure that in less than about four weeks because it takes that long for the effect to be seen and the data to come through and be analysed.
“So that’s the reason for the five-week gap, because it allows us to see whether it’s had an effect and then to make a judgement as to whether that’s material to making the next decision.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s scientific adviser, says the five-week gap between the steps to ease lockdown is important to “make sure we’re not flying blind”.
Boris Johnson said “there is light ahead” as a result of the vaccination programme.
At a press conference setting out the road map out of lockdown, Mr Johnson said it was time for the jabs to start replacing curbs on liberty as a way of protecting against Covid-19.
“We cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that have separated families and loved ones for too long, threatened the livelihoods of millions, kept pupils out of school,” he said.
“Thanks to the vaccinations there is light ahead, leading us to a spring and a summer, which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better for us all.”
The Prime Minister also promised the Government would do “whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods” across the UK while the restrictions continue.
Prof Whitty said the number of people testing positive with Covid-19 has “fallen and is continuing to fall” – but he warned that the rates are “still very high”.