Boris Johnson "hopeful" lockdown restrictions can be eased in the coming weeks

15 February 2021, 17:34 | Updated: 16 February 2021, 08:16

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has said he is "hopeful" coronavirus restrictions can be cautiously eased in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister said the vaccination programme continued to "power past" the targets set for it but warned it was not the time to ease up on efforts to tackle the virus.

He called for people to be "optimistic but also patient" about the situation, and said next week's "road map" would set out "as much as we possibly can about the route to normality, even though some things are very uncertain".

Read more: Boris Johnson: ‘Cautious but irreversible’ route out of lockdown could include key dates

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: "This is an unprecedented national achievement but it is no moment to relax.

"In fact it is the moment to accelerate because the threat from this virus remains very real."

Although more than 90% of over-70s had been vaccinated, some 60% of hospital patients with Covid-19 were under that age.

Mr Johnson said there were "grounds for confidence" that vaccines were helping to curb the spread of coronavirus, not just in protecting those who received the jab.

He said: "Although the vaccination programme is going well, we still don't have enough data about the exact effectiveness of the vaccinations in reducing the spread of infection.

"We have some interesting straws in the wind, we have some grounds for confidence but the vaccinations have only been running for a matter of weeks.

"While we are learning the whole time, we don't, as I talk to you today, have all the hard facts that we need.

"And the level of infection remains very high."

The PM admitted he could not guarantee there would be no further lockdowns although he stressed that "science is now unquestionably in the ascendancy over the disease".

Mr Johnson said: "I can't give that guarantee, of course not, because we are battling with nature, with a disease that is capable of mutating and changing.

"I'm increasingly confident, I'm increasingly optimistic about the sheer extent of the possibilities that are opening up with vaccinations.

"I will be setting out as much of a timetable as we can give on the 22nd and I'm very hopeful that we will be able to go ahead and open things up."

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the number of people in hospital in the UK with coronavirus is coming down but the "rates are still very high".

"They are around the point, in fact slightly above the point, which they were at the peak of the epidemic in April last year," he told the press conference.

"So these are still very high rates but they are definitely heading in the right direction."

Prof Whitty said death rates remained high but are continuing to go down.

He also stressed that protection from coronavirus vaccines is not immediate, but comes after two or three weeks.

"Then people will have a second vaccine and that'll strengthen the level of protection and also make it more long lasting - so it is absolutely essential that when people are asked to go back for their second vaccine they do so."