Johnson plans ‘cautious but irreversible’ lockdown lifting

Prime minister says that rapid testing may be needed to reopen some venues
Boris Johnson with vaccine PA

By Alain Tolhurst

16 Feb 2021

The prime minister is proposing a “cautious but irreversible” plan for the UK to come out of lockdown when he publishes the government’s roadmap next week.

Boris Johnson said he hopes to provide target dates for when individual sectors will reopen "if we possibly can”, but warned they may later change depending on coronavirus data.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to a vaccination centre in Kent yesterday before hosting a Downing Street press conference, he said: "The dates that we will be setting out will be the dates by which we hope we can do something at the earliest – so it's the target date by which we hope to do something at the earliest.

"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.”

He added: "I think 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."

Johnson also reiterated health secretary Matt Hancock’s comments today that so-called “vaccine passports” will not be used within the UK as a barrier to taking part in activities once lockdown is eased.

There had been confusion after foreign secretary Dominic Raab suggested yesterday such a system may be used “domestic or local level”, prompting fears people may not be able to go into shops or pubs without proving they have had the jab.

But the PM, speaking at Orpington Health and Wellbeing Centre, said: "I think inevitably there will be great interest in ideas like can you show that you had a vaccination against Covid in the way that you sometimes have to show you have had a vaccination against Yellow Fever or other diseases in order to travel somewhere.

"I think that is going to be very much in the mix down the road, I think that is going to happen.

"What I don't think we will 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 that would be going it a bit."

However, Johnson said lateral flow tests may be used to reopen parts of the economy “which are the toughest nuts to crack”, such as theatres and nightclubs, the prime minister has said.

He told a Downing Street press conference yesterday afternoon that high-capacity venues, which have been shut since the start of the pandemic, may require people to prove they have not got Covid-19 before they enter.

He said lateral flow tests, which give a result in around 20 minutes, being increasingly used in some areas.

"For the purposes of this country and doing things within the domestic UK economy, we’ll look at everything," Johnson said.

"But what we’re thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination, and as you know we intend to vaccinate all the adults in the country by the autumn, plus lateral flow testing.

“Rapid testing, for those bits that have been the toughest nuts to crack, as it were, 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.

“And you’re already seeing lots of businesses using the potential of rapid on-the-day testing as well.

“I think that in combination with vaccination will probably be the route forward. Though I want to stress to everybody, it is still early days, there’s lots of discussions still to be had.”

He was speaking ahead of the publication of his new roadmap to take the country out of lockdown next week, which is expected to include a timetable for when different aspects of the hospitality trade can finally unlock their doors.

It is expected that the first part of the government’s roadmap will be a move to re-open schools from 8 March, but Johnson would not say if all pupils will go back to the classroom on that day or if year groups will be staggered.

"No decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet, though clearly schools on March 8 has for a long time been a priority of the government and of families up and down the country,” he said.

"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.

"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."

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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