Boris Johnson has said the new freedoms being enjoyed in England as lockdown eases were the result of the sacrifices made over recent months but warned it was “inevitable” there were more deaths to come.
The Prime Minister was speaking at a 5pm Downing Street press conference on 29 March – delivered for the first time from Downing Street's new White-House style media briefing room – where he was joined by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
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."
The Prime Minister said a third wave of the virus is “still rising across the channel”, and said it is “inevitable” that there will be “more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths.”
Here is everything you need to know coming out of the latest briefing.
Majority of transmission in ‘younger age groups’
Prof Whitty said 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.
“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.”
More vaccines are incoming
The Prime Minister 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.
Johnson told the conference the collaboration will be “giving us between 50 and 60 million doses of UK-made vaccine”, subject to approval from regulators.
The Prime Minister also stressed the benefits of exercise to build the UK’s “resilience” to the virus, and said 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... 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.”
More on international travel, but not until ‘at least 5 April’
Johnson said the Government will be saying more on travel abroad on 5 April, and added “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.”
The public should “do as much as we can” to prevent the virus and new variants of it coming in from abroad, he said.
“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,” the Prime Minister added.
“We will be saying more about seeing family abroad and travel abroad, but it won’t be until at least 5 April.”
Prof Whitty said there were two risks for the UK from rising cases in Europe and elsewhere – the chance of importing cases and the “much bigger” concern of variants which might reduce the impact of the vaccines.
“Are we concerned about what’s happening in Europe and elsewhere?" he said. “Anybody would be concerned about any country in the world where rates are going up because that has a big impact on people’s health and lives.
Whitty said in the long term there would be ways of dealing with the problems posed by variants but “in the short term that is the principal thing that’s driving concerns about border issues at this stage”.
Everything ‘moving in the right direction’
Johnson said the relaxation of restrictions would be “prized” by people, but emphasised the need for a “cautious” approach along the road map; the “way to get the results that we want”.
He told the press conference: “The whole point about the road map and the timescale that we have got is that it gives us a chance to evaluate the data as we go forward.”
Sir Patrick said next week would be the earliest at which the impact of reopening schools would be assessed.
“At that point we will be able to give the recommendations,” he said, though while “everything is moving in the right direction”, a formal data analysis is needed.
Johnson added: “Already because of the relaxation that we’ve seen, almost certainly because of the opening of schools again, you’re starting to see some of those graphs slightly curl a bit like old British Rail sandwiches, moving upwards a little bit in the younger groups.
“You’ve seen what’s happening on the continent and we’ve seen that happen before, that’s why it’s so vital that… we are cautious in our approach, I think that’s the way to get the results that we want.”