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COVID-19: Boris Johnson wants ‘cautious but irreversible progress’ in lifting lockdown

Written by on 15 February 2021

Boris Johnson has said his plan for lifting England’s coronavirus lockdown is for there to be “cautious but irreversible” progress in easing restrictions.

“We’ve got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible,” the prime minister said on his plan for easing COVID-19 measures.

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“I think that’s what the public and people up and down the country will want to see. Progress that is cautious but irreversible.”

He said that “too many people are dying” after contracting the virus, and while rates of infections are “coming down” they remain “comparatively high”.

The PM will set out his roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February – and he said the aim was for the plan to include the earliest possible dates for reopening different sectors of the economy.

“If we possibly can, we’ll be setting out dates,” Mr Johnson said.

“The dates that we will be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest, if you see what I mean – so it’s the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest.

“If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”

Getting pupils back in the classroom is the government’s priority as lockdown is eased, with the PM saying ministers “will do everything we can” to ensure that happens on 8 March.

Mr Johnson said a decision had not yet been made on whether there will be a full return or a staggered approach.

The PM’s spokesman told a regular Westminster briefing for journalists that it was the government’s intention to “start getting kids back to school from March 8” but did not rule out them returning in stages.

He added that ministers would be looking at a “whole range of evidence and data” this week ahead of the publication of the plan for easing lockdown

“We’re looking at infection rates, and the transmission rates of the virus across the country, the number of people that are being hospitalised, the number of people who are currently in hospital, the number of people who are sadly going on to die from the virus, alongside the latest R rate, and the impact that the vaccination programme is having on transmission rates of the virus,” they said.

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On the prospect of so-called “vaccine passports”, Mr Johnson said they would be “very much in the mix down the road” when it comes to foreign travel.

But he ruled out introducing them domestically, saying: “What I don’t think we will have in this country is – as it were – vaccination passports to allow you to go to, say, the pub or something like that.”

The PM was speaking after the UK met its target of offering everyone in the top four priority groups – around 15 million people – a coronavirus vaccine.

Letters are now being sent to those aged over 65 and the clinically vulnerable to invite them to receive a vaccine.

The government is aiming to offer a vaccine to the 17 million in groups five to nine by the end of April, something that will be done alongside administering second doses for many in the first four groups.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the milestone was a “little step towards freedom for us all”, but there was “no rest for the wicked” as the rollout continues.

The priority list is as follows:

  • 1 – Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  • 2 – All those aged 80 and over. Frontline health and social care workers
  • 3 – All those aged 75 and over
  • 4 – All those aged 70 and over. Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  • 5 – All those aged 65 and over
  • 6 – All individuals aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  • 7 – All those aged 60 and over
  • 8 – All those aged 55 and over
  • 9 – All those aged 50 and over

The rapid vaccine rollout has raised hopes that England’s current lockdown – the third of the pandemic – will be the last and life will start to return to something approaching normality in the weeks and months to come.

Mr Johnson is continuing to come under pressure from his backbenchers over COVID restrictions.

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More than 60 of his MPs have reportedly backed a call from the lockdown-sceptic COVID Recovery Group (CRG) of Tories for measures to be fully lifted by the end of April.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the CRG, told Sky News that offering a vaccine to everyone in the top nine priority groups by that point “should mean that we can lift away restrictions, because people have been protected”.

“That’s the moment to really get a spring in our step and as the prime minister has said, reclaim our lives once and for all,” he said.

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But the PM’s latest comments are likely to leave members of the CRG and its supporters disappointed.

Asked if it would be safe to allow COVID to circulate once all those aged 50 and over have been given a jab, Mr Johnson said he wanted to see the rates of infection “come down very low indeed”.

He continued that allowing a large “volume of circulation” ran the risk of “new variants and mutations within the population where the disease is circulating”, as well as a “greater risk of the disease spreading out into the older groups again”.

Mr Johnson added: “Although the vaccines are effective and great, of course no vaccination programme is 100% effective, so when you have a large volume circulating, when you’ve got a lot of disease, inevitably the vulnerable will suffer, so that’s why we want to drive it right down, keep it right down.”

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