Boris Johnson today declared the UK will “live with Covid” like flu in the future – even if cases keep soaring as they are now.
The Prime Minister took a bullish tone after his new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said ending restrictions on July 19 will be his “absolute priority”.
Mr Javid’s claim yesterday led to fears he had abandoned the “data, not dates” approach to the government’s roadmap.
Shock figures today show 20,479 people tested positive in the most recent 24 hours – and cases are up 73% in a week.
Monday’s figure of 22,868 was the highest daily announcement of new cases since the end of January.
But Downing Street said “we believe the link is being broken” between cases and deaths – even though “we’re waiting to see” if it has been “completely severed”.
Mr Johnson today hosted a Cabinet meeting, which “agreed that once we have completed the roadmap we will be able to live with Covid in the future, even if cases continue to rise, thanks to the protection provided by the vaccines.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman refused to be drawn on what would be an acceptable annual death toll from Covid-19.
He told reporters: “In terms of living with Covid, like I say, we believe that because of the success of our vaccination programme and because of the other mitigations we have in place such as our testing capacity, we will be able to live with this disease as we do with flu.
“And as with flu we don’t set those sort of numbers of targets that you’re referring to.
“We take every conceivable reasonable step to ensure the public are protected.”
Told 8,000 to 20,000 deaths were attributed to flu per year, he replied: “Like I say, that is just factually the number.
“That is not a target or a number that government sets.
“What actions the government takes is we have a very significant rollout of flu vaccine every year and last year obviously was our biggest ever; provide significant protection to the public.
“That’s the significant action that we take.”
The government will announce a final decision on July 12 on whether step four of England’s roadmap can begin as planned on July 19.
It will be based on four tests, none of which are a surge in case rates alone.
A surge in cases only fails the four tests if it risks “a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
No10 today refused to rule out some restrictions staying in place beyond July 19 – despite previously saying the “hope” was to remove all legal restrictions on social contact.
The PM’s spokesman said: “It’s our intention to return to normality as much as is safely possible.
“I’m not going to be drawn into what will or won’t be required beyond the end of step four.”
But he added: “And as we do with other diseases such as influenza, we will need to learn to live with the virus.
“And that because of the success of our vaccination programme, which reduces significantly the chance of hospitalisation and death, we can continue to open up thanks to having built up those defences through vaccination.”
No10 said the government would continue publishing daily Covid figures, despite some Tories complaining they are fuelling restrictions.
Downing Street said the figures provide an “important level of transparency to the public” and “we’ll keep it under review as we go forward”.