By Rachael Grealish
The upcoming easing of lockdown will go ahead as planned, despite the spread of the new COVID variant, the Prime Minister has announced.
Speaking from Downing Street – alongside Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty – today, Friday May 14, Boris Johnson confirmed the COVID lockdown roadmap would go ahead as planned on May 17, although he’s urging caution.
The PM said: “At this stage there is no evidence increased cases amounting into unmanageable pressure on the NHS – even in Bolton – and infections, deaths and hospitalisations nationally remain at their lowest levels since last summer.
“So this is a balanced decision and I do not believe that we need to, on the present evidence, to delay our roadmap and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three, in England from Monday.”
However, Johnson was serious towards the end of his announcement saying the government would do ‘whatever it takes to keep the public safe’.
“But I have to level with you this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to more to step four in June and I must press we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe,” he continued.
“Our surveillance data gathering is now so advanced that if there was a danger coming under unsustainable pressure we would see the signs in the data very early on and we could react in good time and that gives us the confidence to continue moving forwards for now.
“But I urge everyone to exercise the greatest caution. Because the choices we each make in the coming days will have material effect on the road ahead.”
The PM addressed the issues of the Indian variant, B.1.617.2, in the UK saying the government believes it is more transmissible, but they’re unsure how much so.
“At this stage there is some important unknowns,” he said, “We believe this variant is more transmissible, than the previous one – in other words it passes more easily from person to person – but we don’t know how much.
“I’m told that if it’s only marginally we can continue more or less as planned but if the variant is significantly more transmissible we’re going to be face with some hard choices.”
However, he did go on to say there is ‘no evidence to suggest our vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation’.
Public Health England (PHE) estimates the COVID vaccines have already ready saved almost 12,000 lives.
Therefore, the government will be continuing to monitor how the situation develops very closely.
The PM said: “The race between our vaccination programme and the virus maybe be about to become a great deal tighter and it’s more important than ever, therefore, people get the additional protection of a second dose.
“So following advice from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation we will accelerate remaining second doses for those over 50 and clinically vulnerable right across the country so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose and if you are in this group the NHS will be in touch.”
As for those under 30s getting vaccinated the question did come up and Prof Whitty said the UK is going ‘in a very steady but rapid progression in terms of vaccination’, starting with the most vulnerable people, including some people in their 30s.
The programme is going in a steady downward progression in terms of age because the risk is strongly correlated with age, he added and said he hopes everybody has their first vaccine by end of July.