Boris Johnson says lockdown is working and vaccines ARE effective against Covid variants


Boris Johnson today insisted lockdown is working and vaccines are effective against coronavirus variants – but warned it is too early to take our ‘foot off the throat of the beast’.

The PM struck a positive tone as he visited a vaccination site in Yorkshire, saying there was evidence of a ‘flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations’.

After a leaked Cabinet Office report hailed the ‘stabilising’ situation, he also stressed that the government believes all the jabs being used in the UK are effective against all variants. And he said he was ‘optimistic’ that Britons will be able to go on summer holidays this year. 

But Mr Johnson dodged committing to any timetable, amid fears that the South African version of the disease is transmitting in the community.

Two people in Surrey have tested positive for the variant of coronavirus, despite having no links to travel or previous cases of the strain – with ‘surge testing’ being carried out in the area to check the scale of the problem. 

The PM told reporters on his visit to the vaccination hub in Batley: ‘We are starting to see some signs of a flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations.

‘But don’t forget that they are still at a very high level by comparison with most points in the last 12 months, a really very high level.

‘So the risk is if you take your foot off the throat of the beast, as it were, and you allow things to get out of control again then you could, alas, see the disease spreading again fast before we have got enough vaccines into people’s arms.

‘That’s the risk.’

Asked about the issue with variants spreading, Mr Johnson said: ‘We are confident that all the vaccines that we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants.’

He said the vaccines could be adapted to deal with new variants if necessary.

‘The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another, I don’t think it will be as bad as the last 12 months – or anything like – of course, but it’s very, very important that our vaccines continue to develop and to adapt, and they will,’ he said.  

The PM struck a positive tone as he visited a vaccination site in Yorkshire, saying there was evidence of a 'flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations'

The PM struck a positive tone as he visited a vaccination site in Yorkshire, saying there was evidence of a ‘flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations’

Mr Johnson dodged committing to any timetable, amid fears that the South African version of the disease is transmitting in the community

Mr Johnson dodged committing to any timetable, amid fears that the South African version of the disease is transmitting in the community

Professor Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease expert and member of the Sage advisory panel, said the jab could introduce huge changes within months if the rollout continues apace.

Professor Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease expert and member of the Sage advisory panel, said the jab could introduce huge changes within months if the rollout continues apace.

Surrey County Council revealed that it had uncovered two cases of South African variant.

Surrey Local Resilience Forum (SLRF), along with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care, will carry out ‘surge testing’, in which residents in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking will be visited and requested to take a PCR test regardless of symptoms.

Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey, said: ‘This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further. By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.

‘It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.

Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, said: ‘The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Surrey.

‘I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.

‘The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.’

Meanwhile, a top scientist has predicted that the UK could be back to something close to pre-coronavirus life as soon as the summer thanks to the UK’s vaccine juggernaut.

Professor Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease expert and member of the Sage advisory panel, said the jab could introduce huge changes within months if the rollout continues apace.

And he suggested that the lockdown could start to be eased some time next month as hoped – but will need to be done ‘relatively gradually’ and carefully to avoid a spike in cases.  

His optimism came after a weekend of mixed messages from ministers about what the summer will look like for lockdown-weary Britons.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock raised the hopes of millions yesterday as he said that he expected a ‘Great British summer’ powered by the success of the vaccine rollout.

But less than half an hour after his local BBC interview, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said it was ‘dangerous’ for ministers to go on television ‘making promises about people’s summer holidays’.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programe this morning,  Prof Tildesley said: ‘The danger is that as we start to unwind controls we offset the gains we get from vaccinations so we need to be very careful.

‘But if the vaccine rollout continues at high levels and we do find that actually these vaccines are good at blocking transmission as well as preventing severe infection, then we are in a good position.

Tax burden for Britons is at a 70-year high 

The tax burden is at a 70-year high amid warnings businesses face disaster if Chancellor Rishi Sunak moves to raise more money in next month’s Budget.

The Treasury is set to rake in 34.2 per cent of economic output in the next financial year, according to campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance. 

The average tax burden – the amount of tax taken by the Treasury compared with the size of the economy – over the last five years has already climbed to 33.8 per cent, the highest since 1951. 

The Chancellor is believed to be considering a rise in capital gains tax as he tries to balance the books after the coronavirus pandemic. Business tax and fuel duty rises are also thought to be among the potential targets.

But grim figures today show the UK’s recovery already appears to be stalling, with activity in the manufacturing sector falling to a three-month low due to fresh lockdowns and post-Brexit supply chain disruptions.

The CBI has been calling for the holiday on business rates to be extended further, with firms still under huge pressure. 

‘And hopefully by the summer we can get back to something pretty close to what we have seen before the pandemic was normal.’

His optimistic outlook came as Ryanair’s boss  voiced his hope that European beach holidays could return this summer thanks to vaccines.

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of the budget airline, said he believes there could be a huge surge in demand for flights to Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal this summer.

His airline has already tried to advertise holidays this year with a ‘jab and go’ advert. 

In a message of optimism, he predicted that the Covid-hit travel and hospitality industry could finally ‘return to normal’ by the end of this year – due to a ‘pent-up demand’ from beach-deprived Britons.

But, speaking on the day the Irish low-cost carrier announced expected losses of £800million across 2021, he warned the boom was dependent on the success of the UK’s Covid vaccine roll-out.

So far almost nine million Britons have received their first dose of a Covid jab – with the Government currently on track to have everyone over the age of 50 vaccinated by the end of March.

And Mr O’Leary believes ministers should lift travel restrictions once Britain’s most vulnerable have been protected.

Local elections due to take place on May 6 look like they will go ahead, after the Conservative Party told activists they should campaign without knocking on doors or delivering leaflets during the lockdown.

Last night it was revealed proxy voting rules are to be altered to accommodate people with coronavirus. 

Currently people who wish to nominate a friend to vote on their behalf have to give six weeks’ notice which would rule out many people struck down by the pandemic or forced to self-isolate.

Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of the budget airline, said he believes there could be a huge surge in demand for intra-European flights this summer

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of the budget airline, said he believes there could be a huge surge in demand for intra-European flights this summer

Mr Hancock has long been a summer optimist despite the horrific coronavirus death rate. In December he revealed he had already booked his summer holiday

Mr Hancock has long been a summer optimist despite the horrific coronavirus death rate. In December he revealed he had already booked his summer holiday

But the rules are to be changed to allow proxies to be nominated on the same day as a vote, as late as 5pm. 

Appearing on BBC Politics East yesterday morning, Suffolk East MP Mr Hancock said he was confident that a high percentage of the UK population would have had their jab within the next six months, enabling a roll-back of restrictions that have been in place since the new year.

‘In six months we will be in the middle of, I hope, a happy and free great British summer. I have a high degree of confidence that by then the vast majority of adults will have been vaccinated.

‘That is not just the clinically vulnerable groups but then going to all groups, people like me – I’m in my 40s and healthy and we will have got though everybody. ‘That will give a high level of protection.’

Speaking a short time later on LBC radio, Ms Truss said that the government’s focus was on schools.

‘We have to just focus on step by step and summer holidays, I’m afraid, are a lower priority than getting kids back to school,’ she told the radio station.  

‘If there is one thing we have learnt during the coronavirus crisis so far, is how unpredictable things are, what things could emerge.

‘I think it would be very dangerous for a government minister to go on your show making promises about people’s summer holidays.’

She accepted that current rules which require quarantine and negative Covid tests would likely be ‘quite permanent’ and would be in place for the ‘foreseeable future’

Later, speaking on Andrew Marr, she said there was a long way to go before the summer months. 

The travel industry, both domestic and international, has been among the worst-hit by the repeated lockdowns over the past 10 months. 

Mr Hancock has long been a summer optimist despite the horrific coronavirus death rate.

In December he revealed he had already booked his summer holiday, travelling to Cornwall with his osteopath wife Martha and their three children.

Speaking in the Commons Mr Hancock had said: ‘I do have high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one without the sort of restrictions that made the summer of 2020 more restrictive. I’ve booked my holiday. I’m going to Cornwall.’ 



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