PM: Signs lockdown is working but too early to 'take foot off throat of the beast'

1 February 2021, 15:45

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has said there are signs that coronavirus lockdown measures are working but it is too early to "take your foot off the throat of the beast" by easing restrictions.

Speaking during a visit to the Al Hikmah vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, Mr Johnson said that although infection rates are flattening, they are still "at a very high level by comparison with most points in the last 12 months."

He also said he had not taken a decision on whether there would be a return to the tier system following the lockdown.

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Mr Johnson told reporters: "We are starting to see some signs of a flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations.

"But don't forget that they are still at a very high level by comparison with most points in the last 12 months, a really very high level.

"So the risk is if you take your foot off the throat of the beast, as it were, and you allow things to get out of control again then you could, alas, see the disease spreading again fast before we have got enough vaccines into people's arms. That's the risk."

Discussing a return to the tiered lockdown system, he said: "It may be that a national approach, going down the tiers in a national way, might be better this time round, given that the disease is behaving much more nationally.

"If you look at the way the new (UK) variant has taken off across the country, it's a pretty national phenomenon.

"The charts I see, we're all sort of moving pretty much in the same sort of way, I mean there are a few discrepancies, a few differences, so it may be that we will go for a national approach but there may be an advantage still in some regional differentiation as well. I'm keeping an open mind on that."

The PM played down fears about vaccines being ineffective against different variants, telling reporters: "We are confident that all the vaccines that we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants."

He said the vaccines could be adapted to deal with new variants if necessary.

"The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another," he added.

"I don't think it will be as bad as the last 12 months - or anything like - of course, but it's very, very important that our vaccines continue to develop and to adapt, and they will."

Mr Johnson was asked if borders could fully reopen once the adult population is vaccinated and if the vaccines were shown to be good enough to deal with mutant strains.

He said: "We will be looking very closely at the impact of the vaccines on the patients, on the population, how effectively they're getting the deaths down, how effectively they're reducing serious illness and will be taking a series of judgments about when and how to relax.

"What I don't think people want to see is a speedy relaxation that leads to an upsurge in the virus and I think everybody understands the need for tough border controls whilst there is a risk of new variants coming in. We want to take no risks with our borders."

But Mr Johnson has said he was "optimistic" that people will be able to enjoy a summer holiday this year if the virus can be kept under control.