Boris Johnson vows 'I want this lockdown to be the last' and is 'very hopeful' for roadmap next week
BORIS Johnson tonight insisted he wants the current lockdown to be the last ahead of a major speech on rolling back the restrictions next Monday.
Appearing at a Downing St press conference the PM said he's "increasingly confident" the mass jabs programme will offer a permanent way of easing curbs on daily life.
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And he hailed Britain's "unprecedented national achievement" as the target for jabbing the 15 million most vulnerable people was smashed with a day to spare.
Boris said he's "optimistic" about the future because "science is now unquestionably in the ascendancy over the disease".
The PM said: "We're battling with nature, with a disease which is capable of mutating and changing.
"I'm increasingly confident, increasingly optimistic about the sheer extent of the possibilities that are opening up with vaccinations.
"I'll be setting out as much of a timetable as we can give on the 22nd and I'm very hopeful we'll be able to go ahead and open things up.
"People should be very, very much encouraged by what's going on at the moment, but we want to set out a timetable that is realistic and that means one that is obviously cautious and takes account of the real state of the pandemic."
NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens said the health service is ready to jab up to a million people a day during the second phase of vaccination.
But the PM said the number of people in hospital means "we have to keep our foot to the floor" on vaccinations.
He said: "It’s no moment to relax, and in fact it’s the moment to accelerate because the threat from this virus remains very real.
"If we can keep their pace up and we can keep supply steady we hope to offer a vaccination to everyone in the first nine priority groups by the end of April.
"This moment is a huge step forward but it’s only a first step, and while it shows what the country can do we must be both optimistic but also patient."
It came as…
- Nicola Sturgeon threatened to close the England-Scotland border over a hotel quarantines row
- 'Prof Lockdown' Neil Ferguson said all schools in England are set to reopen on March 8
- France launched another attack on the UK's successful vaccination rollout
The PM said he will set out "as much as we possibly can about the route to normality" when he unveils his roadmap out of lockdown next week.
But he warned: "Some things are very uncertain, because we want this lockdown to be the last and we want progress to be cautious but also irreversible."
Pressed on his plans, Boris said he "cant give that guarantee" that this lockdown will definitely be the last.
But he also revealed ministers see easy mass testing, rather than vaccine passports, as the way to reopen large venues like nightclubs and theatres.
He said: "We'll look at everything, but what we're thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination plus rapid testing for the toughest nuts to crack, such as nightclubs or theatres, those parts of the economy we couldn't get open last year.
"I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down."
The PM's remarks came after he earlier insisted Covid cases need to come right down to ease the nation's lockdown – or they will spike again and infect the elderly later.
He said the rate of infection was a key part of lifting the restrictions on the nation as he warned: "We want to see progress that is cautious but irreversible."
Boris insisted he doesn't want to have to row back and force the nation into yet more shutdowns, so will be moving slowly to get the nation back to normal when he announces his plan next week.
He told reporters in a pooled clip earlier: "Rates of infection, although they are coming down, are still high", warning that high rates could mean vulnerable people were still at risk.
The PM said: "We would like to see the rates of infection come down very low indeed. We want to drive it right down, and keep it right down.
"People would much rather see a plan that is cautious but irreversible, and coordinates with where we are with the disease."
But he also raised hopes of a summer getaway for millions of older Brits who have had the jab.
Boris said vaccine passports for international travel are "very much in the mix down the road" and "I think that is going to happen".
But he insisted they won't be used at home to allow jabbed people greater freedoms, such as going to the pub.
Speaking during a visit to Kent, he said: “Inevitably there will be great interest in ideas like can you show that you’ve had a vaccination against Covid, in the way sometimes you have to show you’ve had a vaccination against Yellow Fever or other diseases, in order to travel somewhere.
“I think that going to be very much in the mix down the road, I think that is going to happen.
“What I don’t think we’ll have in this country is, as it were, vaccination passports to allow you to go to say the pub or something like that.
“I think that would be going it a bit. In the context of having vaccinated a lot of the population, the rapid test approach will start I think to come into its own.”
The PM will set out a roadmap for how the lockdown can be gradually rolled back in a major speech on February 22.
Top Tory MPs are urging him to ditch restrictions across the board as soon as all over 50s have been vaccinated and gained protection, which should be achieved by the end of April.
Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Research Group of MPs, said schools must open on March 8 because "we can't afford to be cavalier about the harm to children".
He said: "We have said that other restrictions which remain in place should be proportionate to the harms which Covid is then capable of causing, bearing in mind the accelerating number of people vaccinated.
"Likewise, hospitality by Easter we will be looking at two thirds of groups one to nine vaccinated and therefore harms that Covid inescapable of causing will be again substantially diminished.
"For hospitality you are either open at Easter or you are not. It is a major time of the year for hospitality so it is very important that Government takes note of the harms caused to hospitality by being kept close.
"And then of course by May 1 we will have vaccinated all of the top nine groups which remember includes people under 50 who are clinically extremely vulnerable and others with underlying health conditions."
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