Boris Johnson 'optimistic' ahead of his roadmap for easing lockdown

13 February 2021, 14:20 | Updated: 13 February 2021, 16:45

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has said he is "optimistic" he will be able to begin announcing the easing of some restrictions when he sets out his roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February.

The prime minister told reporters during a visit to a vaccine manufacturing facility plant in Billingham, Teesside - where the new Novavax vaccine will be manufactured - that he is confident but "cautious" ahead of his announcement in nine days.

"I'm optimistic, I won't hide it from you. I'm optimistic, but we have to be cautious," he said.

He also told LBC he was "hopeful" that pubs would be able to open their outdoor areas by Easter.

Mr Johnson explained that his first priority remained opening schools in England on 8 March before any other sectors.

"Our children's education is our number one priority, but then working forward, getting non-essential retail open as well and then, in due course as and when we can prudently, cautiously, of course, we want to be opening hospitality as well," he said.

"I will be trying to set out as much as I possibly can in as much detail as I can, always understanding that we have to be wary of the pattern of disease. We don't want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret."

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Boris Johnson has said he is optimistic ahead of laying out his roadmap for easing lockdown
Boris Johnson has said he is optimistic ahead of laying out his roadmap for easing lockdown. Picture: PA

The UK leader said that while coronavirus infection rates are falling, overall numbers remain very high.

His comments came as scientists continued to urge caution over the easing of the current controls when Mr Johnson sets out his "roadmap" out of lockdown for England on February 22.

One scientist advising the Government said ministers risked a third wave of the pandemic as big as the current one if they moved too quickly while senior NHS figures said the health service remained under huge pressure.

Read more: Govt urges remaining over-70s to come forward and get vaccinated

Ministers however are confident the vaccination programme is on track to meet the target of getting an offer of a jab to everyone in the top four priority groups - including the over-70s - by the deadline of Monday.

Mr Johnson said the efficacy of the vaccines in helping to drive down infection rates would be the key to determining how quickly they could ease restrictions.

"We have made huge progress with the rollout of the vaccines. That is great," he said during a visit to a vaccine manufacturing facility in Teesside.

"But we have still got infections running very high throughout the country - levels which last year we would have thought were really very high indeed (and) still sadly a great many deaths in our hospitals.

"Although the number is beginning to come down, and perhaps starting to come down quite fast, we need to look at the data very, very hard."

He added: "Something also that will be very important is the efficacy of the vaccines - are they working in the way that we hope that they are? - and making sure they are really helping, along with the lockdown, to drive down the incidence. That is the key thing."

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Mr Johnson also said Covid-19 is a disease which people will have to "simply live with".

He said Health Secretary Matt Hancock was right to say the virus could become a "manageable disease" like seasonal flu.

"A nasty disease like this will roll through. A new disease like this will take time for humanity to adapt to, but we are," he explained.

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"The miracles of science are already making a huge difference, not just through vaccinations but therapies as well. New therapies are being discovered the whole time which are enabling us to reduce mortality, improve our treatments of the disease.

"I do think that in due time it will become something that we simply live with. Some people will be more vulnerable than others - that's inevitable.

"I think the Health Secretary spoke about the autumn. Let's see where we get to."