Boris Johnson Says Third Lockdown to be UK's Last, Easing Restrictions 'Cautious But Irreversible'
13:06 GMT 15.02.2021(updated 13:09 GMT 15.02.2021)
The United Kingdom entered into its third national lockdown following the discovery of a new fast-spreading variant of the virus in December last year. As the vaccine begins to be rolled out to the most vulnerable groups, the Conservative government is facing demands to begin easing restrictions.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the lifting of lockdown should be "cautious but irreversible" as his plans to ease coronavirus restrictions are expected to be unveiled later this week.
Speaking during a visit to the Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre in south-east London, Johnson said the details of his roadmap to end lockdown â€“ starting with the reopening of schools â€“ are yet to be finalised.
"We will do everything we can to make that happen but we've got to keep looking at the data, we've got to keep looking at the rates of infections, don't forget they're still very high, still 23,000 or so Covid patients in the NHS, more than in the April peak last year, still sadly too many people dying of this disease, rates of infections, although they're coming down, are still comparatively high," he said.
"So we've got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible and I think that's what the public and people up and down the country will want to see."
While he stressed that his initial announcement would only establish the "earliest" date that restrictions could be eased, Johnson said he hoped it would be possible to confirm an exit route soon.
"If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, to lay it for a little bit, we won't hesitate to do that."
Johnson said he believes "people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease."
This comes as the PM is currently facing backbench pressure to end lockdown measures as the UK has successfully administered 15 million vaccinations.
Members of the COVID Recovery Group, a group of 50 lockdown skeptic MPs, warned Johnson on Sunday that there would be "no justification" for maintaining current restrictions after all over-50s have been offered the inoculation.
"COVID is a serious disease and we must control it. However, just like COVID, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense social and health damage, and have a huge impact on people's livelihoods," the group wrote in a letter to the PM.
â€‹However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock later scuppered demands for a rapid end to lockdown, saying that there's still "some way to go" before restrictions could end completely, claiming that the government is waiting on key data on how vaccines have impacted transmission rates.
Last week, the UK saw its coronavirus "R" rate fall below 1 for the first time since July. According to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), lockdown measures introduced following the discovery of the new fast-spreading variant in December has seen new infections shrink by 2-5 percent each day.
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