The UK is on track to lift coronavirus restrictions as planned, but the country could still be hit by the third wave sweeping Europe, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister said he could see nothing in the data to stop him “continuing along our roadmap to freedom”.
“In just a few days’ time, I’m finally going to be able to go to the barbers. But more important than that, I’m going to be able to go down the street and cautiously, but irreversibly, I’m going to drink a pint of beer in the pub,” he said.
“And as things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our roadmap to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.”
However, Johnson said it was still unclear how the surge in coronavirus cases across Europe would affect the UK. He warned that “bitter experience” had shown a wave in Europe would tend to hit the UK “three weeks later”.
“I think the second half of the year will have the potential to be really fantastic. But it depends on things still going right,” he said. “We depend on the successful vaccine programme, and disease not taking off again.”
“The question is – is it going to be, this time, as bad it has been in the past? Or have we sufficiently mitigated, muffled, blunted impact by the vaccine rollout? That’s a question we still don’t really know the answer to.”
Speaking at the Conservative spring forum, Johnson sought to credit the private sector and free-market economy with the successes of the vaccine rollout.
“Yes, government played a pretty big role … but in the end, none of this would have been possible without the innovative genius and commercial might and, you know what I’m going to say, the might of the private sector. The free-market economy is at the heart of this vaccine rollout.
“There is a huge unmissable lesson about the need for private risk taking, capitalist energy.”
The prime minister encouraged Tories to promote the successes of the vaccine rollouts to harness political support when campaigning for the party in upcoming local elections.
“When you go out campaigning in the giant electoral test on 6 May in England, Scotland and Wales for councils and mayors and police and crime commissioners, or parliamentarians, I hope, my fellow Conservative, you will not hesitate to make this basic point about the incredible scientific breakthrough we’ve just seen,” he said.
He also gave more information about the decisions behind the tier system of restrictions, saying that discovering the Kent variant of Covid-19, also known as B117, led to the system being dropped.
“That was an incredibly important moment, because we were then able to work out what was happening, because we could see that B117 was basically transmitting considerably faster,” he said.
“With that we were able to understand why the tiering system that had been basically working for much of the autumn just wasn’t going to work any more.”