Jan 26, 2021
Boris Johnson COVID Press Conference Transcript January 26: UK Deaths Surpass 100,000
Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference on January 26, 2021 to provide coronavirus updates. He announced that the UK death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000. Read the full transcript here.
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Boris Johnson: (02:27)
Good afternoon. I’m sorry to have to tell you that today the number of deaths recorded from COVID in the UK has surpassed 100,000, and it’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic. The years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and, for so many relatives, the missed chances even to say goodbye. I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who’s lost a loved one, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and the many grandparents who have been taken.
Boris Johnson: (03:09)
To all those who grieve, we make this pledge that when we’ve come through this crisis, we will come together as a nation to remember everyone we lost and to honor the selfless heroism of all those on the front line who gave their lives to save others. We will remember the courage of countless working people, not just our amazing NHS and care workers, but shop workers, transport staff, pharmacists, teachers, police, armed forces, emergency services, and many others. You kept our country going during our biggest crisis since the second World War.
Boris Johnson: (03:54)
We will commemorate the small acts of kindness, the spirit of volunteering, and the daily sacrifice of millions who placed their lives on hold time and again as we fought each new wave of the virus, buying time for our brilliant scientists to come to our aid. In that moment of commemoration, we will celebrate the genius and perseverance of those who discovered the vaccines and the immense national effort, never seen before in our history, which is now underway to distribute them, one that has now seen us immunize over 6.8 million people across the United Kingdom.
Boris Johnson: (04:39)
When those vaccines have finally freed us from this virus and put us on a path to recovery, we will make sure we learn the lessons and reflect and prepare. And until that time, the best and most important thing we can all do to honor the memory of those who have died is to work together with ever greater resolve to defeat this disease. And that is what we will do. I’m going to hand over to Chris for the slides.
Thank you, Prime Minister. On this very sad day, I’ve just got three slides. The first is the number of people testing positive for COVID in the UK. And as you can see on this graph, the number peaked at an extremely high number. It is still at a very high number, but it has been coming down. I want to just put one caution on that, which is that Office of National Statistics Data demonstrates a rather slower decrease and I think we need to be careful that we do not relax too early. Next slide, please.
The number of people in hospital with COVID is still an incredibly high number. Over 35,000 people. And as you can see in this graph, it has flattened off, it is not still rising overall. It is substantially above the peak in April. And over this time, it looks as if it is coming down very slightly in some areas, including London and the Southeast and East of England, but there are some areas of the country where it is still not convincingly reducing. So it is still at a very high level throughout the country, and NHS staff are working incredibly hard with many very sick COVID patients. Next slide, please.
Finally, on this day, the number of deaths. At the moment, this looks as if this has flattened out, but at a very high level. So the most recent seven day average for deaths, the rolling seven day average, is 1,242 deaths. An incredibly high number. And I think we have to be realistic that the rates of mortality, the number of people dying a day, will come down relatively slowly over the next two weeks, and will probably be flat for a while now. So we will still, unfortunately, be having additional deaths to add to that very sad total that the Prime Minister talked about. Thank you very much.
Boris Johnson: (07:16)
Thanks very much, Chris. Simon, anything you want to add?
I think really just to thank my fellow staff across the health service for everything that you have done over the course of the last year. This Sunday, it’ll be a year since the first two patients with coronavirus were treated in hospital in Newcastle and it’ll be a year since the first flight returned from Wuhan to Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantining of people returning to this country.
It’s a year in which over quarter of a million severely ill coronavirus patients have been looked after in hospital, and those staff who’ve been looking after those patients also, of course, experience what this pandemic has meant as daughters and sons and and as parents and as grandchildren with family and friends and neighbors. And so this is not a year that anybody’s going to want to remember, but nor is it a year that, across the health service, any of us will ever forget.
Boris Johnson: (08:18)
Thanks very much, Simon. Let’s go to questions from the public now. Martin, from The World.
With vaccines well on the way, what are long-term plans to allow a return to travel, and government working proactively with other nations to install safe travel mechanisms, including potential shared databases and any technology, so we can get business growing as soon as possible?
Boris Johnson: (08:46)
Thanks Martin. Well, what we want to do is look at what where we’ve got two on the 15th of February. As you know, that’s the date by which we hope to have vaccinated all the most vulnerable groups. The [inaudible 00:08:59] vaccination and immunization, one to four groups…
Boris Johnson: (09:03)
… Vaccination and immunization one to four groups and see where we are in terms of reducing the spread of infection and what we’ve done to protect the most vulnerable. I think, Martine, it would be fair to say that as you’ve heard from Chris, the rate of infection is still pretty forbiddingly high. But at a certain stage, we will want to be getting things open, but that will depend on us continuing to succeed in driving the level of infection down, and rolling out that vaccine program as fast as we possibly can.
Boris Johnson: (09:40)
And what I will be doing in the course of the next few days and weeks is sending out in more detail as soon as we can when and how we want to get things open again. But that will depend on us continuing to beat the disease. Let’s go to Mark from Plymouth, please.
Will the government expect to extend school closures until Easter? What strategy would the government publish to ensure no child is left behind?
Boris Johnson: (10:12)
Mark, we will want to look very, very carefully at the data at where we’ve got to with the vaccination program before we make announcements about the timetables as I’ve just said to to Martine, we’re working as hard as we can to get things open. If you will recall, we really wanted to keep schools open and we will want to reopen them, but we must do it in a way that is safe and we must do it cautiously.
Boris Johnson: (10:41)
I appreciate the huge efforts parents are now going to teach their kids at home, to look after kids who should be in school. School is the best place for pupils. And I know the educational damage that we risk doing by protracted lockdowns. And that’s why the government continues to support all sorts of measures to help teachers big rollout of laptops, 1.3 million laptops that we’ve provided and massive investments in catch-up tuition as well. Clearly that can’t be in tutoring and a one-to-one help of all kinds. That can’t be done whilst kids are at home.
Boris Johnson: (11:31)
So what we will do, Mark, is work around the clock as we come out of lockdown to ensure that the kids who have suffered, peoples who have suffered from loss of learning from differential learning across the country, get the attention, get the tuition and the support that they need. And we’ll make sure that exams are fair and properly adjusted to reflect what everybody has been going through in the last 12 months. Let’s go to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC.
Laura Kuenssberg: (12:06)
Thank you very much. And everyone’s thoughts tonight are with those who have lost loved ones their families left behind. But Prime Minister, near the start, the hope in government was to contain the numbers to 20,000. It’s now five times that. What went so wrong? And to the others, can you give us any idea of the range of the possible totals that you are looking at now? What are your expectations?
Boris Johnson: (12:31)
Well, Laura, I think on this day, I should just really repeat that I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost. And of course as prime minister, I take full responsibility for everything that the government has done. What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could and continue to do everything that we can to minimize loss of life and to minimize suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage in a very, very difficult crisis for our country. And we will continue to do that just as every government that is affected by this crisis around the world is continuing to do the same.
I think in terms of the range of totals, I’ve always been very careful not to try and make forward projections on tons of numbers. What I have said earlier on and I will repeat this is unfortunately, we’re going to see quite a lot more deaths over the next few weeks before the effects of the vaccines begin to be felt. And I think we have to be realistic that that is going to happen. But trying to actually put a number on that I don’t think is helpful to anybody. I think what we really should do is do everything we can to try and prevent that. And that is a combination of rolling out the vaccines as the prime minister said, but also all of us doing our bit in terms of staying at home, except where we have to. And that’s something which I know the entire country is doing. And that is really the key to the next few weeks.
[crosstalk 00:14:05] Which is that fundamentally the driver of the death rate is the infection rate set against that. We are seeing continuing improvements in hospital treatment for severely sick coronavirus patients. Accruedly, the in-hospital death rate has fallen from about a third to a fifth. And we do expect that there will be more treatments for coronavirus looking at over the next six to 18 months perhaps. We’ve already seen those with some of the corticosteroids, some of the rheumatoid arthritis drugs that have been repurposed. There are antivirals in the pipeline.
So looking out, I think we can see a world in which coronavirus may be more treatable, but for right now, it’s a combination of reducing infections and getting vaccinations done. And as we stand here this evening, one in eight adults across this country have now had their first vaccination. So we are well on our way.
Boris Johnson: (15:03)
Thanks Simon. Thanks Laura. Paul Brand of ITV.
Paul Brand: (15:10)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Prime Minister, 20,000 deaths was once described as a good outcome. How would you describe the outcome of 100,000 deaths that you’ve presided over? And to Professor Whitty what would you say to care homes who are telling us tonight that they are concerned about the gap between the first dose of the vaccine and the second dose, and who are calling on the government to close that gap back down to the recommended number by Pfizer.
Boris Johnson: (15:39)
Paul, I think that you’ve exhaust the thesaurus of misery, though it’s an appalling and tragic loss of life. And there’s no question about it. And all we can do now as Chris has just been saying is work together with the tools that we have of the stay-at-home principle, plus the vaccines to beat the virus. As I say, I’m sure that we will.
In terms of the gap, I’m going to give a relatively technical answer, because I think this is important that people who are listening to this who’ve had one vaccination actually understanding the logic behind it. So I think this is a key question. The first and really critical point, which I think everybody understands is our limitation is the number of vaccines available. That’s true here, it’s true in every other country as well.
So therefore by definition, if you give a vaccine twice to someone, you can only give it to half the number of people over a period of time. So the reason, the first reason for delaying the course of the vaccines is to double over the next few weeks the number of people who can actually have a vaccine and get some protection.
The second point on this is the great majority of the protection comes from the first vaccine that someone has, the great majority. And that’s true for the Pfizer vaccine. It’s true for as far as we can see the Moderna vaccine, which is coming and it’s true for the [inaudible 00:17:10] vaccine. So the great majority of this protection is from that first dose. And by therefore what we’re doing is we’re giving a first dose to twice as many people.
Now, the third thing people say is, “Well, might we have a situation where the immunity suddenly wanes between three weeks and 12 weeks?” And there is no evidence for that for natural immunity. There is no evidence for that for the [inaudible 00:17:33] vaccine, and there is no evidence for that in the Moderna vaccine, which is very similar. It’s another RNA one to the Pfizer vaccine. So that side of things, I think we are confident of.
The final reason that people are worried about is, well, could this give rise to a situation where there’s an increased risk of something developing in terms of a variant of this in the period of the eight weeks? And that’s a theoretical worry, but the maybe data, the certainty data from [inaudible 00:18:03] to imply-
… but there may be data, there certainly is data from AZ to imply we may get at least as strong a response. And for AZ at least, possibly even a stronger response for having the longer period of time, which means that will be a stronger period and for longer period of protection afterwards, which will help protect the vaccine as well as the individual person afterwards. So there’s lots of reasons why we think… We thought very carefully about what the balance of this is, but the balance of risk in terms of reducing the number of deaths in the community, and I really want to stress that, that is the aim of this, is to maximize the number of people who get that first dose where the great majority of the protection comes from.
Boris Johnson: (18:40)
Thanks, Paul. Sam Coats, Skype.
Sam Coats: (18:44)
Prime minister, you just said, “We truly did everything we could to save lives.” Do you really not reflect on whether some of those 100,000 deaths could have been prevented if you’d made decisions differently and perhaps followed scientist’s recommendations more closely? Professor Whitty, do you wish you could have done more to encourage a lockdown or a circuit-breaker [inaudible 00:00:19:08] suggested in September rather than having to wait until the end of October? And Sir Simon, do you think that there was too much household mixing in December?
Boris Johnson: (19:15)
Sam, I just want to repeat what I said really to Paul and to Laura, we did everything that we could to minimize suffering and minimize loss of life in this country as a result of the pandemic, and I’m deeply sorry for every life lost. What I can say is that the government will continue to do everything we can to minimize life lost as we go forward. And I continue to urge people, as Chris has just done, to follow that guidance and stay at home and protect the NHS and save lives.
Well, in terms of the question you asked me, I mean, what we have now is a situation which is quite different to what we had in September, and I think it’s important that we recognize that. The new variant has changed the situation we’re in very substantially. The question about when to actually do particular measures has always been a matter of trying to balance, and I’ve said this repeatedly throughout this tragic pandemic, balance the things which actually reduce the risk of transmission with all the other things we’re trying to do in terms of society functioning over what has been a very long period of time, and unfortunately one we’re not through at the moment. And that’s something which political leaders have had to balance really difficult things.
The scientific evidence is clearly something which is one part of that, and it’s something which people have tried to make as clear as possible with all the minutes published, and it’s extremely clear what the evidence on that is. But I would go back to saying, the thing which we have which has made things very different in 2021 has been the problems of the new variant, and that was not predictable in September, although that is something we are trying to do something to address now. We were worried two weeks ago that the measures we had at the moment were not enough to hold this new variant. I think what the data I showed you at the beginning of the slide sessions shows is that the rates are just about holding with the new variant with what everybody is doing. Our big worry was that they wouldn’t even be able to hold it. It’s going to be much harder because it’s a new variants, and I think we’d have to be realistic about that.
What I’d say, Sam, is three things. First of all, in terms of the underlying causes of spread, I think we defer to Chris and to the epidemiologists. But secondly, the factors, we see it in the health service, are that on Christmas day we had 18,000 coronavirus positive patients and now we’ve got just under 33,000. But the third point is that we’ve seen that growth rippling up from the Southeast, London, to the East of England, and then up to the Midlands, which is consistent with the spread of the new variant of the virus.
Boris Johnson: (22:05)
Thanks very much Sam. Pippa Crerar of The Mirror.
Laura Kuenssberg: (22:09)
Hello. Prime Minister, in the days and weeks approaching this sad milestone, have you spoken to the families bereaved by coronavirus? Do you ring them up privately or meet them on Zoom? And if you haven’t, then why not? And if I could also ask you, NHS staff in Scotland were given 500 pounds bonus in recognition of their hard work during the pandemic. Even Lidl, the supermarket has given it staff a 200 pounds bonus today. Why haven’t NHS staff in England had a similar gesture of support? And Sir Simon, would you like to see them get one? Thank you.
Boris Johnson: (22:45)
Well, Pippa, the answer to your first question is yes, of course, I’ve talked to families of the bereaved and will continue to do so. And again, I offer my condolences to everybody who’s suffered a loss of a loved one during this pandemic. And we do our absolute utmost to support our wonderful NHS staff, and indeed had a three year pay package for nurses that I think was 12.8%, and we’ll continue to invest record sums in the NHS. I think the amount we invested in the NHS, even before the pandemic began, was more than any time in modern memory, 34 billion pound package of investment, and that will continue under this government.
I think what I would say is that having talked to many staff across the health service, obviously, day in, day out, actually, what people probably want right now is three things. First of all, to be able to look forward to some sort of respite from what has been just an incredibly demanding and continuous year of pressure. Secondly, to know that there are reinforcements on the way, that the staffing pressures in the health service will be taken seriously in the years to come. And there are some encouraging signs on that, but we’ve got to do a lot more. And then thirdly, to tackle the pressures in the here and now, which fundamentally are about reducing the number of new patients who are turning up in A&E severely ill with coronavirus day in, day out, so it’s that combination, I think. The sense that there will be some respite, the sense that the health service will get resilient with the staffing support that it needs in the years to come. But for right now that actually we collectively turn off the incessant new admissions that are arriving with very severely ill coronavirus patients.
Boris Johnson: (24:40)
Thanks, Pippa. Harry Cole, The Sun.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Our readers with children are desperate for some clarity, this is not a question of when, but a question of how. Will children in lower case areas be allowed to go back to school first, especially primary school children who have the most to lose from this virus educationally? Will you phase back schools by age and region when it is possible to begin getting children back into the classroom? And if I may, there’s been some saber rattling and some comments out of Europe looking at the possibility of blocking exports of vaccines produced into Europe to third countries like the UK, can we get a response from you to that? And what measures are you putting in place behind the scenes to make sure that our vaccine supplies are not under threat from a hostile action such as that? [crosstalk 00:07: 31].
Boris Johnson: (25:32)
Thanks Harry, very much. Getting kids back into school, primary kids back into school, as I said earlier, that’s something that has been a top priority. The government continues to be our top priority for any kind of reopening. Clearly, if we’re going to go back after half term, February the 22nd, we need to give two weeks notice. So what I can tell you Harry is that we will be making sure that we give advice well in advance of that about what we hope to do and give people some rough idea of when things might be possible. Now it that depends, as I’ve said earlier, on the rollout of the vaccine, where we are with the pandemic, the rates of infection and so on.
Boris Johnson: (26:17)
And on your excellent point about, will there be a regional difference when we look at areas where the virus is less present, it’s a pretty much a national picture at the moment, but of course we will look at all those ideas.
Boris Johnson: (26:38)
On supply of vaccines from abroad and supply into this country, I’ve got total confidence in our supplies. We’ve been over this many, many times in the last few days and hours, we’ve got confidence in [inaudible 00:08:54]. I’ve seen what Commissioner Kyriakides has said, and all I would say is obviously we expect and hope that…
Boris Johnson: (27:03)
…Obviously, we expect and hope that our EU friends will honor all contracts and we will continue. We fully expect that will happen, and we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world. Because the delivery of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, the creation of the vaccine has been a multinational effort, and the delivery of the vaccine is multinational as well, because the virus knows no borders.
Boris Johnson: (27:34)
I think that was it. I know that you had a question for either of my colleagues. Let’s go finally, to Charlie Cooper of Politico.
Thank you for having me. It’s a terrible milestone we’ve passed today. Prime Minister, you spoke about learning lessons. Can you give a concrete example or several concrete examples of what you’re doing or planning to ensure that we never see the terrible loss of life in the UK again, because this will not be the last pandemic. And just to follow up on the question about the EU, would you urge the EU against the kind of controls on the exports of vaccines that have been suggested?
Boris Johnson: (28:19)
Sorry, would I urge the EU to what?
Against the export.
Boris Johnson: (28:26)
Against. Yes, I’m sorry. I wasn’t quite sure of that. Yeah. Look, Charlie, thank you very much. On what we’re doing, let’s be in no doubt that the UK is in a radically different position now from where we were 12 months ago, when it comes to pandemic preparedness or dealing with an epidemic of this kind. We have huge quantities of … Not any huge quantities, for instance, of PPE, but we have the ability to make it ourselves. We’ve created an indigenous industry to not just conduct lateral flow testing, but to make lateral flow tests.
Boris Johnson: (29:08)
We have a vast test and trace industry. NHS test and trace has been built from scratch, is now a colossal operation that is actually doing amazing work in isolating incidences of the disease and helping us to find out exactly what is going on and where. The UK is also … I’ve asked Chris and Simon to comment on this, but the UK is also out in front in conducting genomic testing of the virus cases so that we know exactly what type of virus. And 47% of all the genomic analysis in the world is now done in the UK.
Boris Johnson: (29:53)
You’ll have seen what this country has done in terms of creation of the viable treatments for the virus, or pioneering of viable treatments in the form of dexamethasone. And clearly we are out in front in the creation of, one of a group of countries that is doing well in helping to create vaccines. None of that is, of course, any consolation for the terrible toll of life that I’m forced to announce today, but I can tell you that things are really very different now in the UK as a result of the pandemic, and our readiness for any future pandemic is really colossal by comparison. But that’s probably no particular surprise to you or to our viewers. I think people would expect that, and quite rightly.
Boris Johnson: (30:58)
On your point about the vaccines and our friends in the EU, I would just repeat what I said. The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation, and I think that one of the lessons the world has to learn from the pandemic is the need to cooperate and to make sure that we do things together and we understand how to fight these pandemics together. So, I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE across borders, I don’t want to see restrictions on the supply of drugs across borders, and I don’t want to see restrictions on vaccines or their ingredients across borders. And I think that’s pretty common sensical, and I’m sure would be widely supported across the EU as well.
There’s a huge amount we have learned, are learning, and will learn about this too. I’ll take just three broad groups. There’s things we’ve learned scientifically. We now understand the virus in a way we didn’t, and some of the science has undoubtedly changed some of our understanding of what the science meant has changed. For example, we were initially quite cautious about whether masks were useful. We decided that they were based on increasing levels of evidence. We initially didn’t realize quite how strong the importance of asymptomatic transmission was, for example. I think we now recognize that’s a very major part of it.
Then there’s things we’ve learned clinically, and the reason, as Simon said earlier on, that the death rates have gone down, these doctors are learning the whole time. Some of this by randomized trials, like dexamethasone, a variety of other trials, many of which are led from the UK because we have a very strong tradition of evidence-based medicine. But also just by clinical practice, which is the way that doctors and nurses learn how to improve treatment in different areas.
And we’ve learned things operationally. Very obviously, that means that we can do things now that we were not able to do and didn’t understand how to do early on, and we will continue to learn. And I think we need to realize that we’re going to have to continue to learn the lessons from this pandemic, because there is a lot for us to learn from it.
Boris Johnson: (33:10)
Thank you, Charlie. Thanks very much everybody. Thank you.