Boris Johnson pours cold water on easing Covid rules early


Boris Johnson today poured cold water on the prospect of easing the remaining coronavirus rules early as he refused to rule out future lockdowns and warned the nation should brace for a ‘rough winter’.    

The Prime Minister has delayed ‘freedom day’ by four weeks to July 19 but a two week review will take place on July 5 to see if the return to normal can be moved forward. 

Mr Johnson struck a pessimistic tone during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire as he said ‘Delta’ variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising and the country must therefore be ‘cautious’.  

But he insisted it is ‘looking good’ for the rules to be lifted at the ‘terminus point’ of July 19 as he said the ‘vaccination rollout is going gangbusters’.

However, Mr Johnson declined to rule out reimposing draconian curbs later in the year as he warned ‘some new horror’ could emerge which ‘we simply haven’t budgeted for’.

The PM’s intervention came after Matt Hancock confirmed Israel-style plans to scrap travel quarantine rules for fully-vaccinated Britons could soon come into force, bolstering hopes that summer holidays broad could still be saved.

The Health Secretary said ministers are ‘working on’ relaxing restrictions for double-jabbed adults and their children, which could see the current mandatory 10-day self-isolation from amber and red list countries replaced with daily Covid tests.

But he said Number 10 could not press ahead with the plan for 31.3million Britons just yet because they are waiting for experts to analyse data from a pilot scheme to see if ‘it will be effective’. 

Mr Hancock confessed that he hopes progress will be made ‘soon’, with sources saying widespread family holidays abroad may be back on from August. 

The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: ‘We’re not ready to be able to take that step yet, but it’s something that I want to see and we will introduce, subject to clinical advice, as soon as it’s reasonable to do so.’

Boris Johnson struck a pessimistic tone during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire as he said 'Delta' variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising

Boris Johnson struck a pessimistic tone during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire as he said ‘Delta’ variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising

The latest coronavirus developments came as:  

  • Mr Hancock suggested Mr Johnson was ‘stressed’ when he called him ‘totally f****** hopeless’ in a private WhatsApp message sent to Dominic Cummings.
  • Mr Cummings claimed he ‘screamed’ at the PM while his chief aide over the premier’s insistence that Government policy should ‘follow the bloody media’. 
  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government should rely on economic growth rather than tax hikes to fill the financial blackhole left by the Covid crisis. 
  • It was claimed that Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are on a collision course over the PM’s big-spending habits as Tories voiced alarm about the UK’s spiralling £2.17trillion debt mountain. 

Tory MPs, hospitality chiefs and travel bosses are all hopeful the PM will accelerate the nation’s exit from lockdown. 

But Mr Johnson appeared to suggest that is unlikely as he painted a grim picture of the spread of the ‘Delta’ variant. 

Asked whether he will bring forward ‘freedom day’, he said: ‘As I say, the vaccination rollout is going gangbusters and loads of people are coming forward now for their second jabs.

‘Please come forward, get your second jab, and it is great that today we will have done all of JCVI one to nine, so everybody over 50 will have been offered two jabs as of today plus all care workers, all the vulnerable groups, huge numbers of people.

‘I think almost 60 per cent of adults in this country have now had or been offered two jabs so we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.

‘But look at the numbers of delta, the “Delta” variant, it is sadly going up still, it is going up by about 30 per cent a week in cases, hospitalisations up by roughly the same amount and so sadly ICU admissions into intensive care.

‘So we have got to be cautious but we will be following the data the whole time.’

Mr Johnson said it is still ‘looking good’ for the July 19 date amid fears among some Tory MPs that the PM could again delay the lifting of the remaining curbs. 

Asked to rule out further lockdowns in the future, the premier said: ‘You can never exclude that there will be some new disease, some new horror that we simply haven’t budgeted for, or accounted for. 

‘But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against all variants that we can currently see – so Alpha, Delta, the lot of them, Kappa – I think it’s looking good for July 19 to be that terminus point.

‘I think what the scientists are saying is that things like flu will come back this winter, we may have a rough winter for all sorts of reasons, and obviously there are big pressures on the NHS.

‘All the more reason to reduce the number of Covid cases now, give the NHS the breathing space it needs to get on with dealing with all those other pressures, and we are certainly going to be putting in the investment to make sure that they can.’

Mr Johnson’s comments came after Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospital admissions are ‘slowly rising’ but are nothing like the rates seen during previous waves.

He told Times Radio: ‘Two weeks ago, on June 4, we had 800 Covid-19 patients in hospital; as of Friday it was 1,170.

‘In November there were 14,700 and (in the) January/February peak, there were 34,000 people in hospitals with Covid-19.

‘It’s rising relatively slowly but it’s nowhere near anything like the kind of numbers we’ve had in previous waves.’ 

Despite the growth in case numbers, the Government is still hoping to relax international travel rules in the near future. 

As well as easing the travel rules, Whitehall insiders say ministers also want to follow the US in ditching stay-at-home orders for fully-vaccinated people who come into contact with the infected.  

Number 10 is also facing fresh calls to re-evaluate its red, amber and green travel list after data revealed fewer than one in 250 travellers from amber list countries tested positive for Covid last month. 

Just 89 of 23,465 people who travelled into the UK from nations such as Spain, Greece, France and Italy between May 20 and June 9 had a positive Covid test.

The cases all came from just 16 of the 167 countries on the amber list, according to NHS Test and Trace data. And there were none classed as being ‘variants of concern’ — Alpha, Beta, Delta or Gamma strains.

The Government is looking to Israel for potential answers to its current international travel headache. 

Fully-jabbed Israeli citizens wanting to travel abroad must take two tests — one three days before boarding their plane on the way home, and the other when they touch down. 

They must also show border control staff proof they have been vaccinated on an official app.

Asked whether Downing Street is considering replacing quarantine rules for fully-vaccinated travellers, Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘We know the vaccine is working.

‘That’s why it is so important so many people are coming forward to get it and we’re always looking at how we can replace the restrictions we’ve had to have as a country with the protection you get from the vaccine.

‘In fact, that’s the whole point of the vaccine – to protect life and get us out of these restrictions.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘Now, we are not able to make any specific announcements on this today. It is something that we’re working on and I very much hope we’ll be able to make progress soon.’   



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