Boris Johnson said he is hopeful another lockdown will not be needed to combat coronavirus as it is confirmed the UK has signed a deal for 60million vaccines.
Addressing the nation in a press conference after some restrictions were lifted today, the Prime Minister said the new freedoms being enjoyed were the result of the sacrifices made over recent months.
Mr Johnson said it has been a “big day for many of us” with the first chance to see friends and family outdoors since the lockdown was imposed.
“It’s only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today and we must proceed with caution,” he said.
“It’s great to see that yesterday we recorded the lowest number of new infections for six months, deaths and hospital admissions across the UK are continuing to fall.
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“That wave is still rising across the channel and it’s inevitable, as we advance on this road map, that there will be more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths.”
Mr Johnson added that, if people obey restrictions and the vaccine rollout continues to be effective, the government hopes to be able to rule out another lockdown.
“I am hopeful, I don’t see anything in the data right now that would cause us to deviate from the roadmap, but we have got to remain humble in the face of nature and we have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the British public,” he said.
Mr Johnson spoke from Downing Street’s new £2.6million media room alongside Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.
The Prime Minister also confirmed that a deal had been done with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to provide “fill and finish” capacity at its Barnard Castle facility in the North East of England for the Novavax vaccine.
He said the collaboration will be “giving us between 50 and 60 million doses of UK-made vaccine”, subject to approval from regulators.
And Mr Johnson added that there is no need for people to worry about a shortage of the Pfizer vaccine for a second dosage.
“There isn’t any need to worry about shortage of Pfizer for the second dose as far as we can see at the moment,” he said.
“We’re going to continue to roll that out and supply that, and, as I said, April is going to be the second dose month. It’s very important that everybody gets their second dose.”
Professor Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told the press conference that those most likely to catch and transmit Covid-19 were those in the “younger, unvaccinated group”.
“The majority of transmission is in younger age groups who have not yet been vaccinated, unless people have got pre-existing health conditions, or they are a health or social care worker, or care for someone who is vulnerable,” he said.
“We therefore anticipate that 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 transmit Covid are in that younger, unvaccinated group.
“So, the vaccination has had a really big impact on helping to protect against people dying from Covid, although it is not a complete protection, but it will have less impact on transmission because of this age distribution.”
Today marked the beginning of next phase of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, allowing for greater freedom.
Groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise in parks and gardens once more while outdoor sports facilities have reopened.
The government’s messaging has also changed to reflect the latest changes in restrictions.
‘Stay at home’ has now been replaced with a ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ message, reminding people to only meet outside.
In England, football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs are now free to reopen after months of being shuttered.
Organised team sports can also resume outdoors, meaning grassroots competitions can take place ahead of the Easter break without the need for social distancing.
The next step in the roadmap to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops to reopen and for outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants.
Restrictions were eased as official figures showed more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose.
This accounts for about 57 per cent of all adults.
The Health Secretary also revealed today that the door is “not shut” on foreign holidays and more will be known in a few weeks.
Matt Hancock said on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ that international travel had not been ruled out, though the priority was enabling people in the UK to see friends and family.
He added that the “biggest problem” was from variants such as those first found in South Africa and Brazil, and it was not yet known if vaccines were effective against them.
Addressing holidays in this evening’s press conference, the Prime Minister said: “I think that the most important thing that we’ve got to do right now as we continue to immunise great numbers of people in this country is to protect our country insofar as we can, it’s never going to be perfect, but do as much as we can to prevent the virus coming back in from abroad and new variants coming in from abroad.
“So, the rules about what you can do, what people can do, to see their families abroad will be governed entirely by the rules that cover travel abroad and people coming from abroad.
“At the moment, as you know, it’s still forbidden to travel, we’ll be saying a bit more on April 5 about what the global travel taskforce has come up with.
“Clearly, at the moment there are lots of countries that are on a red list, 35 countries are on a red list, where we have very stringent measures in place for them, for people arriving from those countries.”
He added: “We will be saying more about seeing family abroad and travel abroad, but it won’t be until at least April 5.”