Boris Johnson: 'Too early to say' when Covid lockdown will be lifted

21 January 2021, 14:52

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has said it is "too early to say" when coronavirus restrictions will be lifted, adding that it is "absolutely crucial" to follow lockdown rules "in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead".

The Prime Minister told reporters there is "no doubt" the new variant of the virus "does spread very fast indeed" and urged the public to stay at home.

His comments came after a survey found that the prevalence of coronavirus across England increased by 50% between early December and the second week of January.

Mr Johnson spoke during a visit to Greater Manchester after Storm Christoph brought widespread flooding to the area.

He said: "I think it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions.

"We'll look then (February 15) at how we're doing but I think what we're seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we're seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas - there's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.

"It's not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great."

He said it is "absolutely crucial" to obey the current restrictions "in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead".

Downing Street also refused to rule out the possibility of the lockdown continuing into the summer.

Ministers hope it will be the last national lockdown required during the pandemic.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.

"It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce."

Some 143,000 volunteers were tested in England between January 6 and 15, with results showing that one in 63 people were infected.

The researchers said their findings showed there were "worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections", covering part of the period of the latest lockdown.

National prevalence of the virus increased by half, from 0.91% in early December to 1.58%, the study found.

While there was a rise in prevalence across all adult age groups, it was highest in 18 to 24-year-olds, and more than doubled in the over-65s age group.

London saw the highest regional prevalence, jumping from 1.21% to 2.8%, while there were also rises in the South East, East of England, West Midlands, South West and North West.

The only region to see a decrease was Yorkshire and the Humber, and prevalence remained stable in the East Midlands and North East, but the researchers warned infection numbers were still high even in these areas.

The study authors said the national R value - referring to the number of people that an infected person will pass the virus on to - was estimated at 1.04.

For the first time the report has mobility data, showing that peoples' movements decreased at the end of December and increased at the start of January, which the scientists said helped explain the change in prevalence.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, warned that if prevalence continued to be so high "more and more lives will be lost".

He said: "Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely.

"To prevent our already stretched health system from becoming overwhelmed, infections must be brought down; if prevalence continues at the high rate we are seeing then hospitals will continue to be put under immense pressure, and more and more lives will be lost.

"We all have a part to play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the findings show "why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come".

He added: "Infections across England are at very high levels and this will keep having a knock-on effect on the already significant pressures faced by our NHS and hospitals.

"It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections."