PM warns 'we don't know' how robust UK's defences are against new coronavirus wave

29 March 2021, 21:00 | Updated: 29 March 2021, 21:12

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson has warned it is unclear how strong the UK’s defences are against a new wave of coronavirus infections despite the success of the vaccine rollout.

The Prime Minister warned of the spike in cases currently affecting Europe, and added it was “inevitable" as restrictions in the UK are eased “that there will be more infections and unavoidably more hospitalisations, and sadly more deaths".

He added at Monday’s coronavirus press conference: "What we don't know is exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defences are against another wave.

"What we need to do is to continue flat out to build the immunity of our population, build our defences against that wave when it comes."

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It comes as lockdown restrictions in England were eased on Monday, with groups of six people or two households allowed to meet outdoors and outdoor sports returning.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there were two risks for the UK from rising cases in Europe and elsewhere - the chance of importing cases and the "much bigger" concern of variants which might reduce the impact of the vaccines.

In the long term there would be ways of dealing with the problems posed by variants but "in the short term that is the principal thing that's driving concerns about border issues at this stage", he said.

Urging people to get their second doses, he added: "We do have a kind of a wall of vaccination that will get stronger with the second vaccines.

"But it is not a complete wall, it is a kind of leaky wall. Therefore, there will always be some people who either have chosen not to be vaccinated, or where the vaccine has had much less effect.

"If we get a small surge, there will be cases of people who have been vaccinated who will have severe disease, and there will be cases of people who are not vaccinated, a much higher proportion, who will get severe disease, and some of those will go on to die.

"If you get a very big wave, that would obviously lead to a significant impact. So that's the reason why the Prime Minister and ministers have been absolutely determined that this is a slow and steady unlocking, looking at data between each step."

Mr Johnson said being cautious is the "way to get the results that we want".

"You've seen what's happening on the continent and we've seen that happen before, that's why it's so vital that, you know, we do what we're doing right now," he said.

"It's only because of months of sacrifice and effort that we can take this small step towards freedom today and we must proceed with caution," he added.

It comes as government data up to March 28 shows that 34,119,095 jabs have been given in the UK so far.

Of these, 30,444,829 were first doses, a rise of 293,542 on the previous day, and 3,674,266 were second doses, an increase of 146,785.

A further 23 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 126,615.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 4,654 lab-confirmed cases.