Prof Van-Tam warns of 'some twists and turns ahead' in UK's pandemic response

28 April 2021, 19:11 | Updated: 29 April 2021, 01:20

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has warned of "some twists and turns ahead" in the UK's pandemic response but added the country is "following a good dry line now".

The deputy chief medical officer for England was asked by LBC Westminster Correspondent Ben Kentish what the latest coronavirus data meant for the roadmap out of lockdown.

Speaking alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Prof Van-Tam said the next few weeks are "critical" ahead of further restrictions being lifted.

Although the pair began the briefing outlining the positive progress the nation had made in its pandemic response, the deputy CMO urged people to remain cautious and not add to the pressures on the reproduction (R) number.

He warned that R will be negatively impacted by lockdown measures being lifted on 17 May and 21 June.

However, he also reassured LBC listeners that the continued success of the vaccine rollout will positively affect R.

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The professor told Ben Kentish: "I think there are some twists and turns ahead still, but I think we are moving at pace and I think we're essentially following a good dry line now.

"But, I don't want us to run into any wet patches. That is going to be really critical over the next few weeks.

"There are going to be good pressures on R and bad pressures on R in the next few weeks.

"Obviously, with 17 May planned easements and 21 June planned easements these will have a propensity as we mix more and more normally to increase R.

"At the same time, we hope that the continued vaccine rollout, if it continues as well as it started, will put the downward pressure on R."

He added: "I want us to continue at pace, but still with caution and I can't emphasise how important the vaccine programme continues to be, because we are at the moment down to 42-year-olds, but we need to go much further down and continue that high uptake to put us in a really sustainably safe place."

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Ben Kentish also asked Mr Hancock why the government is sticking rigidly to dates set back in February regarding rules for funerals.

Ministers repeatedly said at the time they would follow data, not dates, when considering lifting lockdown measures. But Ben pressed the health secretary on why he is not lifting funeral restrictions when the latest data shows almost 70 per cent of adults in England now have Covid-19 antibodies.

Mr Hancock replied: "The data shows that we are essentially, precisely on track for where we expected to be at this point and that is obviously good news.

"It means that we can follow the roadmap, and we look at the data all the time.

"The dates that we set out are not 'before dates', because we want to see the impact of each step before the decision to take the next step.

"That's why the roadmap's been structured the way that it is, so that we can check that we are on track.

"The good news is, as far as the next step is concerned, is as of today, we are on track for Step Three on 17 May."