Life in the UK should be “much, much better” by Easter as coronavirus vaccines gradually restore normality to the country, England’s chief medical officer is said to have told Boris Johnson.
The prime minister expressed optimism that people could see more freedoms by spring, depending on the availability of the Covid-19 jabs.
Chris Whitty , the chief medical officer, set a target of 5 April for the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, Mr Johnson revealed in an interview with ITV News.
But he sought to manage expectations by stressing changes would depend on the success of the tiered lockdown system and that the coming weeks and months would be tough.
“Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, set a sort of terminus of 5 April - Easter - when he thought things would be much, much, much better,” Mr Johnson said.
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Asked how long lockdown restrictions would go on for, he said it would depend on “how fast we can get the virus under control with tough tiering, with testing that we’re rolling out, the vaccination programme”.
“I’m not going to give you a deadline, but you’ve heard what I’ve said about April - that is the terminus ante quem [before that date]," he added.
The PM suggested that date could potentially be earlier if the vaccine programme gathers pace.
“If - and it’s a big if - if the tiering can work to bring the virus under control, if the vaccine rollout proceeds fast enough and, in the end, we are able to inoculate to protect those millions, the most vulnerable groups, then there’s a world in which that date could be brought forward - who knows by how many weeks, but that’s obviously what we’re aiming for. I can’t give you that date today,” he said.
Mr Johnson declined to commit to vaccinating 2 million people a week – the rate calculated necessary to prevent a third wave - but said the government would go as fast as it could with rolling out inoculations, saying it depending on how fast they could “crank up” supply.
And he stressed there were still “tough weeks and probably months” ahead for the UK as the new Covid variant spreads across the country and puts hospitals under immense pressure.
“But do I think that by the spring things will be much better? Am I succumbing to my optimistic bias? Yes, I do think things will be much better, I do think this country will get through it very strongly indeed, and I do think people will have a great deal to look forward to,” Mr Johnson said. “But are things going to be tough for the next few weeks and months? Yes, they undoubtedly are.”
Asked about the potential for a 24-hours-a-day vaccine rollout, Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, told journalists: "We're working in the NHS to roll things out as quickly as possible.
"We need the supplies to come through from manufacturers.
"These are still unlicensed products; remember they have an emergency authorisation so it's important that we do this properly by the book. But we are going as quickly as we possibly can."
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