Boris Johnson appeals for caution as chief medical officer warns there will be an ‘uptick’ in Covid cases

Nothing in data to cause delay in roadmap to ending restrictions on 21 June, says PM

Boris Johnson ‘hopeful’ of no more Covid lockdowns

Boris Johnson has appealed for the public to show caution when meeting relatives and friends in the coming days, as his chief medical officer warned that there will be an “uptick” in coronavirus cases due to the relaxation of controls coming into effect today.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister said that the graphs for infection among the younger age groups were “curling up like an old British Rail sandwich”, three weeks from the reopening of schools in England on 8 March.

But Mr Johnson stressed that he had seen nothing in the data to suggest that the government should delay its roadmap towards the lifting of most Covid-19 restrictions on 21 June.

As thousands across England took advantage of new freedoms to meet in groups of up to six people or two households and take part in outdoor sports, Mr Johnson said it was “inevitable” there would be more infections, hospitalisations and deaths, particularly if the third wave of the virus currently sweeping the continent of Europe reaches the UK.

The prime minister confirmed that a deal had been done with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to provide “fill and finish” capacity for the Novavax vaccine at its Barnard Castle facility to deliver up to 60 million UK-manufactured doses, subject to regulator approval.

Despite increasing levels of vaccination in the population, with more than 30 million people having received their first jab, chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance advised against hugging at outdoor family reunions over Easter.

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While most elderly people have received their first, if not their second, jab, the vaccination will not be 100 per cent effective for all, they explained. And the virus can still be expected to be circulating among younger people who have not been vaccinated, even if it does not give them symptoms or cause hospitalisation and serious illness.

Prof Whitty explained: “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 to transmit Covid are in that younger unvaccinated group.”

It will not be until vaccinations have been given to the people around vulnerable individuals – as well as the vulnerable people themselves – that social-distancing guidelines can safely be phased out, he explained.

There were already signs of an increase in infections among children of school age following the reopening of educational establishments in England earlier this month, said Prof Whitty.

But he said the impact should be “modest” if people continue to 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 roadmap would go,” he said.

“But 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.”

As the lockdown is gradually relaxed, Mr Johnson said it will be vital for the public to be “sensible” in sticking to government advice, which was today revised to read “hands, face, space, fresh air” in reflection of growing scientific evidence that outdoor contacts are far safer than indoor.

Asked if he could “categorically rule out another lockdown”, the prime minister said: “Yes, if everybody continues to obey the guidance with sufficient caution and we continue to work together to keep the virus under control and 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 are. 

“Those are the two conditions that would have to be to be satisfied.”

He added: “I’m hopeful. I don’t see anything in the data right now that would cause us to deviate from the roadmap but we’ve got to remain humble in the face of nature and we’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the British public, which has been our approach throughout.”

Mr Johnson said that April will be the “second dose month” as the NHS focuses its vaccine drive on boosting the immunity of the most vulnerable groups who had their first jabs in January and February.

“What we need to do is to continue flat out to build the immunity of our population, build our defences against that wave when it comes,” he said.

And he added: “We don’t know exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defences are against another wave.

“We have seen what is happening with our European friends. Historically, at least there has been a time lag and then we have had a wave ourselves.

“That’s why I stress the importance of everybody maintaining the discipline people have shown for so long.”

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