Boris Johnson said easing England’s lockdown will be based on a “cautious and prudent approach”, as he was urged to focus on data rather than dates when lifting restrictions.
The Prime Minister stressed that any easing of restrictions needs to be done in stages and said that his road map out of lockdown on Monday will be done in a way that ensures it is “irreversible”.
Mr Johnson was asked whether he agrees with Professor Dame Angela McLean’s comments to the Commons Science and Technology Committee that any unlocking should be based on “data, not dates”.
Speaking to reporters from a mass vaccination centre in Cwmbran, South Wales, the Prime Minister said: “I do think that’s absolutely right.
“That’s why we’ll be setting out what we can on Monday about the way ahead and it’ll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way to be irreversible.”
Mr Johnson said easing restrictions should be done “cautiously” as he noted that hospitality was one of the last sectors to reopen after the first lockdown.
“I know there’s a lot of understandable speculation in the papers and people coming up with theories about what we’re going to do, what we’re going to say, and about the rates of infection, and so on,” he told reporters.
“I would just advise everybody just wait, we’ll try and say as much as we can on that.”
It comes as analysis by the PA news agency found coronavirus case rates for three of the four UK nations have dropped to their lowest level since early autumn 2020.
Both Wales and Northern Ireland are currently recording rates last seen at the end of September, while the overall rate for England has fallen to its lowest level since the start of October.
London and south-east England are also recording regional rates that are the lowest since October, according to calculations by PA from the latest health agency data.
Giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, was asked if the R value needs to be at a certain level before restrictions can be eased.
The R value represents the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect and is currently estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9 across the UK, according to the latest Government figures.
“I think the timing is probably more important; it’s how many of the people who are more at risk of, that’s a mixture of old people or people with underlying conditions, have been vaccinated before we do more unlocking,” she said.
“The important issue is to really watch very closely what is happening, so if infections start to increase, and that we do everything we can to decide whether it is a good moment to take another step in unlocking.
“Let’s use data, not dates.”
Dame Angela warned against unlocking too fast and said it risked “disaster” if some of the most vulnerable groups were still unvaccinated.
“I think we can say very, very clearly, don’t unlock too fast because if you unlock a lot, while a lot of the most vulnerable are still unvaccinated – genuinely we risk disaster quite frankly,” she told MPs.
It comes as:
– Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the latest report from National Records of Scotland (NRS) indicated vaccinations are reducing the death toll from coronavirus.
– The world’s first coronavirus human challenge study will begin in the UK within a month, following approval from the UK’s clinical trials ethics body, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced.
Earlier on Wednesday, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson struck a similar tone to Prof McLean and urged Mr Johnson to focus on “data, not just dates”.
He warned that the number of coronavirus infections needs to plummet to under 50,000 before any easing should be considered.
The warnings follow reports suggesting that Downing Street is considering a cautious approach to easing England’s current lockdown measures.
The Daily Mail said ministers are weighing up allowing holiday lets to open in time for Easter and that pubs could open in May, while the Daily Telegraph said cases would need to sink to 1,000 per day before measures could be eased.
Elsewhere, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) did not deny suggestions that rapid-result testing will be at the heart of attempting to introduce a level of normality in the coming months.
The Times said NHS Test and Trace is preparing for nationwide “surge” testing under which more than 400,000 lateral flow tests, which can provide results in less than 30 minutes, will be sent by post to homes and workplaces every day.