PM warns of 'critical moment' as he urges public to stick to the rules

30 September 2020, 17:31 | Updated: 1 October 2020, 00:20

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has said he "will not hesitate" to take further lockdown measures "if the evidence requires it" in the fight against coronavirus.

Speaking at a press briefing, the Prime Minister said the country was at a "critical moment" and that he would not hesitate to bring in new measures if required. However, he said he wanted to avoid another national lockdown.

In a stark warning, the Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the UK was heading "in the wrong direction" and it is "absolutely critical" people follow the restrictions.

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He added: "Rates are still going up. We don't have this under control at the moment."

It comes as the largest Covid-19 study in England to date has shown that around one in 200 people were infected with the virus, according to early results.

The Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori programme found roughly 55 people per 10,000 in the country tested positive for coronavirus between 18-26 September.

Speaking during the press conference, the Prime Minister said: "What we are not doing at the moment is going back to the situation we were in in March," he said during the briefing at Downing Street.

"And, I really don't want to do this. I don't want to go back to a national lockdown where the overall guidance is stay at home, that is not what we are saying.

"We want to keep the economy moving. We want to keep young people, pupils in education.

"But the only way we can do that is if we all follow the guidance and depress the virus."

He said if the public "put in the work together now" then it gives the country the "best possible chance of avoiding that outcome and avoiding further measures.

Mr Johnson said: "I know some people will think we should give up and let the virus take its course despite the huge loss of life that would potentially entail.

"I have to say I profoundly disagree. I don't think that is what the British people want. I don't think they want to throw in the sponge. They want to fight and defeat this virus and that is what we are going to do."

He added: "I am absolutely confident that with better treatments and with the prospect of a vaccine we will get through this.

"Let's follow the rules, wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social-distancing, download the app, and together we will fight back against this virus, protect the NHS and save more lives."

The Prime Minister said the country was "entirely dependent" on the public's collective action in "driving down the virus", when asked for his "honest assessment" on whether further, nationwide, restrictions were on the way.

Mr Johnson, citing a package of recent measures, restrictions and enforcements - including the so-called rule-of-six limit on socialising - said: "The answer is, I'm afraid, entirely dependent on how effective we are now in collectively driving down the virus. We know we can do it because we did it before, in March and April.

"What we hope is that if people obey the guidance - fulfil the guidance - in the way they can and the way they have in the past, we will get the spread (of the virus) down again.

"The strategy is to do that while keeping the economy open - the vast bulk of the economy open - and keeping young people in education. Those have to be absolutely crucial priorities.

"I'm confident we can do it together if we follow the guidance. But our success will have to be judged in the days and week ahead.

"It is still too early to tell whether that package of measures will be successful."

The UK's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance added: "Things are definitely heading in the wrong direction."

The PM also said the way the virus is spreading may be different now to the way it was in March.

"We are seeing some very clear local peaks," he told a No 10 news conference.

"It may be that this is a more localised phenomenon this time in which case all the more reason for us to concentrate on these local solutions as well as these national solutions."

Professor Chris Whitty said that although the virus was not doubling as quickly as it was in March, the numbers could pick up again quickly.

"This small number of deaths now shouldn't reassure us that we won't be, in relatively short order, in quite difficult places, certainly in the regions where we are seeing significant growth at the moment."

The Prime Minister, fresh from his apology on Tuesday for his stumbling explanation of the ban on households mixing in parts of the north-east of England, told the press conference people should consult the Government website if they had "any doubts" about what restrictions were in place.

He added: "What we want to do is just stamp out - or bear down on the virus - in such a way to get the R-rate (of infection) below one, and that's clearly in the areas we have identified.

"The faster we can get it done, the better. It's all about compliance.

"Any doubt about what to do in those areas, get on the website and check out what the restrictions are."

Sir Patrick Vallance added: "It would be wrong to take from this that this is a problem in certain areas.

"It is worse in certain areas, but there is evidence of spread everywhere and we need to be mindful of that - everyone needs to take precautions across the country."

The press conference came as MPs approved a motion to renew emergency coronavirus powers for another six months.

The motion was passed by 330 votes to 24, a majority of 306.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that the measures were "still needed to keep people safe".

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