Feb 22, 2021

Boris Johnson UK COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 22: Plan to Exit Lockdown

Boris Johnson UK COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 22
RevBlogTranscriptsBoris Johnson TranscriptsBoris Johnson UK COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 22: Plan to Exit Lockdown

Boris Johnson held a Downing Street press conference on February 22, 2021 to provide updates on COVID-19 and vaccine distribution. He also explained the four-step lockdown exit plan. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.

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Boris Johnson: (10:30)
Good evening and thank you very much for joining us.

Boris Johnson: (10:34)
Our extraordinary NHS, who’s now succeeded in vaccinating more than 17.7 million people across the UK and nearly a year after this pandemic began, this unparalleled national effort has decisively shifted the odds in our favor, so that we no longer have to rely simply on lockdowns and restricting our behavior and putting our lives on hold. But with every day that goes by, this program of vaccination is creating a shield around the entire population, which means that we’re now traveling on a one way road to freedom and we can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence. And I want to be frank about exactly what that means and the trade-offs involved.

Boris Johnson: (11:26)
The vaccines reduce the danger of COVID. They save lives and they keep people out of hospital, but no vaccine against any disease has ever been 100% effective. So whenever we ease the lockdown, whether it’s today or in six or nine months, we’ve got to be realistic and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalizations, and therefore, sadly more deaths just as there are every year with flu. Even if we sustain the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease. And that’s why it’s right, gradually, to replace the protection afforded by the lockdown with the protection of the vaccines. And our approach is to move with the upmost care and advancing in four steps, each with a minimum of five weeks apart, so we can properly judge the impact of each relaxation before we move on. And you can see the details of all of this on gov.uk. And we will be led at every stage by data, not dates. And we would apply for tests, the pace of the vaccination program, the effectiveness of the vaccines, the pressure on the NHS, and the risks of any new variants of COVID.

Boris Johnson: (12:55)
And therefore, as we look at the data today, I can confirm that two weeks from today, Monday, the 8th of March, we will begin step one, and schools and colleges across England will reopen and teaching classrooms can start again. All the evidence shows that schools are safe and the risk posed to children by COVID is vanishingly small, but to offer even greater reassurance, we’re introducing twice weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils and asking them to wear face coverings for the rest of this term. Students on practical courses can return to university, but all others will need to continue learning online, and we’ll review the situation before the end of the Easter holidays. We will allow breakfast and after school clubs to restart and among other changes, on March the 8th, you will be able to have a coffee on a bench or a picnic in a park with one person outside your household.

Boris Johnson: (13:56)
And because we know how stressful this time has been and how people yearn to see friends and family, if only fleetingly, we will now go further. And on the 29th of March, you can meet more of your friends and family outside, including in gardens, either as two households or subject to the rule of six.

Boris Johnson: (14:20)
And then we’ll go on to step two, which is no earlier than the 12th of April. And this is a big moment because shops will return and reopen hairdressers, nail salons will reopen, pubs and restaurants will all be able to serve customers outside, precisely because we know that outside, the risk of transmission is lower.

Boris Johnson: (14:43)
And then five weeks after that, no earlier than may the 17th, we’ll go to step three and open all our hospitality sector to service indoors. Pubs, bars, restaurants, along with hotels and cinemas and subject to capacity limits, we will also open sports stadia, concert halls, and theaters.

Boris Johnson: (15:07)
But finally, provided we continue to pass the four tests, then from the 21st of June, we will go to step four and say goodbye to most remaining restrictions, resuming large scale events like business conferences and football matches, lifting the limits on weddings, and reopening nightclubs. All of these steps will apply in England and the government will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across our whole United Kingdom for the duration of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson: (15:43)
And I know there are some who would like to accelerate the timetable. I know, of course there are others who would like to be more cautious and stay in the slow lane. And I understand both points of view and I sympathize because levels of infection are still high and we must strike…

Boris Johnson: (16:03)
… are still high and we must strike a very careful balance and always accept that we’ve got to be humble in the face of nature. But also we must accept that we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that have separated families and loved ones for too long, threatened the livelihoods of millions, kept pupils out of school. It’s thanks to the rollout of these vaccinations, many of them pioneered in this country, that the balance of that judgment is now changing in our favor. And thanks to the vaccinations that there is light ahead leading us to a spring and a summer, which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better for us all and from which we will not go back. Thank you very much. I’m now going to ask Chris to do the slides.

Chris Whitty: (16:58)
Thank you, prime minister. First slide, please. This slide, which is familiar, I think, to anyone who’s watched these press conferences shows the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK. And as you can see, there are essentially two things to take away from this. The first of which is that the number of testing positive has fallen and is continuing to fall. But the second is that the rates are still very high at over 11,000 cases on a seven day average rolling basis. Next slide, please. Similarly, when we look at number of people in hospital with COVID in the UK, again, you can see there is a significant fall that is continuing, but the rates are still high and they’re only slightly below the height of the first peak we had last year. So definitely things are heading in the right way, but remain at a high level. Next slide, please. And then if we look at the number of people who have sadly died following a positive test result for COVID-19, these are also falling and the most recent seven day average is 480 deaths a day. So still high, but falling and falling steadily at this point in time. Next slide, please. Now all of the things we’ve seen so far largely are done, or probably almost entirely are done due to the activities of the general public in the UK and all four nations of the UK staying at home and following the lockdown guidelines. But we have had this really extraordinary rollout of vaccination across all four nations of the UK. And you can see in this graph that this line is continuing to go up steadily day on day. Next slide, please. So I just wanted to talk a little bit about what we would expect the impact of this to be.

Chris Whitty: (19:06)
And the prime minister has also asked me to talk a bit about the results of three studies that were released today from England and from Scotland. So the first thing in this slide to say is that the great majority, well over 90%, near 99% of those who sadly die of COVID are in the groups, the JCVI, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization groups one to nine, and they’re in the dark blue. And this is a study of people in hospitals in the UK and the largest group of those, 86% are people who are in groups one to four, these are people who are over the age of 70 and at this stage we have vaccinated the great majority of people in those groups, including in care and nursing homes who wished to be vaccinated, very, very high proportion.

Chris Whitty: (20:04)
So we anticipate that if the vaccines are effective, we would anticipate the death rate will now start to fall, not just because of people staying home and obeying the lockdown guidance and instructions, which people are to an extraordinary degree, but also because of the effects of vaccination. Because people have now had these vaccines, we’re now on the middle bar, which is people in ages 50 to 69 already going very rapidly through those over the age of 65. And people who have significant health problems who are under 65, but who we want to accelerate the period by which they’re vaccinated. So they too are being vaccinated early on. So this will lead to a significant further reduction in the risks of people dying. And this also includes a significant number of people who were then hospitalized who were not in the first four groups, but there are people who get severe disease and are hospitalized under the age of 50.

Chris Whitty: (21:07)
And it’s important to understand that we must not leave them behind in vaccination because there are still severe cases in people who otherwise have no other health problems, as well as people who got predictable health problems in hospitals across the UK under the age of 50. Next slide, please. So my final slide is just to make that point in a different way. And these are data looking at the proportion of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 by age here in England. And what you can see is people over the age of 65, the great majority of whom have now been vaccinated make up 58% of those people, but people under 65 make up a very substantial 42%. So there’s a lot of people who would, if they got COVID, might go on to develop severe disease and go into hospital still unvaccinated, and we have quite a way to go in all four nations of the UK, but making very fast progress.

Chris Whitty: (22:08)
Now, how effective are these vaccines? And that’s a question which we said we think they’re effective. Trials are very good to date. What was released today, both in England and in Scotland were three studies which tried to address this problem, and this is what the prime minister asked me to try to lay out. The first of them is a study done called the SIREN study that was done in people who are healthcare workers, so young adults under the age of 65. And what that showed is that at 21 days, the vaccine led to a 72% reduction in the number of people who developed an infection, even a mild infection at 21 days after just one dose of the vaccine. And this increased further to 86% if they had a second dose. So that’s extremely good protection just from mild infection. Now, obviously you have to have mild infection to go on to get severe disease.

Chris Whitty: (23:11)
And then the second study, which is an important additional piece of information from Public Health England showed that you got significant protection also in older people, including people over the age of 80, so over 55% protection just from getting mild disease at 35 days. But if people gotten infection, there was a further reduction of around 50% in them having severe disease and therefore going into hospital. So if you put them together, you obviously won’t get into hospital if you don’t get disease at all, and then you have a further 50% reduction. So we are confident from these data that the effectiveness of this vaccine in older people in reducing hospitalizations is greater than 75%. The exact number will change as the data comes in, but we are confident that this is going to be the case.

Chris Whitty: (24:04)
And this is backed up by a third study that was released from Scotland. And that looks at both the Pfizer vaccine, which is the data I’ve shown from the UK so far, and the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and the headline numbers they report. And to be clear, I think these will change a bit over time. But the headlines that they report is that the probability of the vaccines reducing your chance of going into hospitals, so that’s made up of the reducing the risk of infection and then reducing the risks of the severe disease, both of them together was 85% for the Pfizer vaccine and over 90% for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. And that vaccine effectiveness remained in those who were 80 years old. So this tells us three things. The first one is these vaccines, both the vaccines being used in the UK provide a very substantial level of protection from the first dose. And in fact, the great majority of protection is from the first dose.

Chris Whitty: (25:09)
So very important people get their vaccination. Secondly, the data suggests that that protection continues over a prolonged period, a lot beyond 21 days. So this is, I think, supportive of. It doesn’t prove it’s exactly [inaudible 00:25:24] supportive of our delaying the second dose. But importantly, the third thing it shows is that we must make sure that those who’ve had a first vaccine go on to get their second vaccine. Final thing that prime minister asked me to talk about was the delay of five weeks between the different stages as they rolled out, the next phases of the roadmap that the prime minister announced to parliament today. And the reason for that is that inevitably for each one of these steps, we are taking a risk which is an accepted risk. There is a risk to this and everybody in the country I’m sure understands this.

Chris Whitty: (26:05)
And what we want to do is after each set of risks with a particular set of opening up, wait until we have data that tells us, has this done what we expected it to do, have we actually ended up in a slightly worse place than we thought we would, or have indeed we ended up in slightly a better place. But I think the big worry is have things got slightly worse than they were expecting. And we cannot measure that in less than about four weeks because it takes that long for the effects to be seen and the data to come through and be analyzed. So that’s the reason for the five week gap because it allows us to see it, whether it’s had an effect and then to make a judgment as to whether that’s material to making the next decision, that’s the basis on which this is done. But I think I would like to re-stress what I said at the beginning on the first slide.

Chris Whitty: (26:55)
There are still some very significant numbers of people with infections every day in the UK. There are still a lot of people in hospital with this disease. This is not the end, but this is the point where we can have a steady risk-based data-driven opening up, but everybody must stick to the guidelines as they go through the different stages. Because if we don’t do that, then we will get to a stage where the rates go up very high and you’ll find there are people who are not protected by the vaccination. These are not 100% effective as the prime minister said. Thank you very much.

Boris Johnson: (27:27)
Thanks very much, Chris. Patrick, anything to…

Patrick Vallance: (27:30)
No, I completely agree with that. And the caution of going every five weeks is very important because we need to measure so that we’re not flying blind on this. We need to know what the impact of the opening steps are.

Boris Johnson: (27:42)
Thanks very much. Let’s go to David from Cardiff.

David: (27:47)
The vaccine rollout is going really well, but people will soon start to require their second dose of the vaccine. What is the government’s plan for incorporating these second doses into the vaccine rollout? Will you need to cut back on the first dorsal as being given, or will the vaccination program be expanded even further, and how?

Boris Johnson: (28:11)
David, you’re asking a very important question. We’ve got to make sure that we have the supply in place for everybody to get their second vaccination within 12 weeks, as well as giving every adult, as we said already, a vaccination by the end of July. And we do believe we have the supplies in place to keep up that rhythm and that timetable. And obviously, we’re looking the whole time to source more where we can from our suppliers according to the contracts that we’ve already signed. But that’s basically the plan, David, that will do. Let’s go to Rachel from London.

Rachel: (28:56)
The WHO has called on countries to ensure equitable vaccine rollout. This is not only the fair thing to do, it’s also safer so we ensure that we give the virus less opportunities to evolve and fewer strains develop. Will the UK commit to ensuring a fair and equitable magazine roll out in distribution once, for instance, our top line priority groups have been vaccinated?

Boris Johnson: (29:19)
Yes, Rachel, it’s very important that the UK will continue to support vaccine rollout across the whole world. That’s why we’ve invested in the COVAX vaccination program. Forgive me. We’re one of the biggest donors in the world to COVAX. And as you rightly say, there’s no point in having a vaccination program that is simply confined to one country. It’s a global pandemic. We need a global vaccination program. Anything to add, Chris or Patrick?

Patrick Vallance: (29:48)
Completely good.

Boris Johnson: (29:50)
Thank you very much. Let’s go to Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC.

Laura K.: (29:54)
Thank you very much, prime minister. There has been progress today, but there will be some rules in place for another four months. When do you really hope to be able to say to the public, it’s over? And Professor Whitty or Sir Patrick Vallance, it’s been acknowledged very openly today by the government that more deaths will come as a result of lifting restrictions. And I know you won’t want to put specific numbers on that, but can you warn the public what kind of numbers they should be prepared for? Because even one of the optimistic suggestions is around 30,000 more deaths as a result of lifting the rules. And while the vaccine program has been remarkable, government documents today suggest 66% of people will be covered, only about two thirds of the population. If it’s full uptake, what do you actually expect the uptake to be?

Boris Johnson: (30:47)
Laura, this isn’t the end today, but it’s very clearly a roadmap that takes us to the end and takes us on a one way journey. We very much hope if we can stick to it, if the data continues to support the decisions we take the pace that we want to take them. So you ask, when. Well, you’ve got the key dates, April the 12th, May the 17th and June the 21st for everything to be open again. And for things that we couldn’t do last year like nightclubs and all the rest of it, theaters to be back up and running again. But we will be guided by the data and by the progress that we make. And that’s why it is important also to be cautious and to recognize that I think people would rather see a certainty about these dates, as much certainty as we can give than haste. And that’s the trade-off obviously that we’ve got to make.

Chris Whitty: (31:59)
On the numbers, and I’ve been very-

Chris Whitty: (32:03)
… on the numbers, and I’ve been very careful never to put forward numbers, if I can possibly avoid, into the public domain because I just don’t think it’s helpful or in fact meaningful. But just thinking about it in relative terms, every year in the UK, as in every other country, you get substantial numbers of people dying from respiratory infections. Flu is the one everyone thinks about. An average year might be about 9,000 people a year. Bad years are significantly more than that. But you also have pneumonias, you have adenoviruses. There are lots of other respiratory infections. And this, I’m afraid, for the foreseeable future coronavirus is going to be added to that list of things that those who are vulnerable, even despite vaccination can be at risk of. We vaccinate against flu, we vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia, and still there are cases and there are deaths.

Chris Whitty: (32:51)
And I think people need to see it in that way, not to see it separate from others, but to see it as this is something where the vaccination will take the rates right down, but they will not get rid of this. And this is something we have to see for the longterm. And in my view is likely to be a problem in particular, in the winter for the next few winters, then let’s see how we go. On the 66% thing, and this has made up in part because children are currently not being vaccinated. There’s a live question about whether in the long run vaccination of children would be something to offer. But there’s a long way to go before that. We haven’t got trials in children. We haven’t got license in children. We haven’t got the modeling to suggest that’s the right thing to do in children at this point.

Chris Whitty: (33:32)
I think this is probably several steps away. At this point the real priority is getting through all the adult groups. And I think what’s been really cheering is we thought we were being quite ambitious in the uptake we would get on the vaccines. Actually, the uptake from almost every part of society so far has been incredibly high. And this is very good because it protects them, it protects the people immediately around them, and in the long run, this will help protect society. So the extraordinary levels of uptake we’re seeing, over 90% in some cases, well over 90%, I hope that is replicated. As people are invited for vaccination, please do go. It protects you and it protects everyone around you.

Patrick Vallance: (34:10)
And then in terms of minimizing the number of deaths, it’s about going slowly and it’s about us all sticking with the rules. So when there’s a chance to sort of do a bit more, that isn’t an invitation to do a lot more, it’s an invitation to do a bit more. And that’s really how we’ve got to behave as we go through this rollout to make sure that we do it at the right stages, measure as we go along and make sure that we pick up. If there is an increase, we pick it up early enough to be able to do something about it.

Speaker 1: (34:37)
Thanks, Laura. Robert Peston, ITV.

Robert Peston: (34:41)
Good evening, gentlemen. Professor Whitty, we’ve heard from you so often the rates of infection can’t get above one, the famous R. But there’s no reference to R in the four tests that you’ve set for opening up society and the economy. So what rate of infection in the coming weeks and months is one that should cause us concern? And for the prime minister, you seem to have had a Damascene conversion to the idea that vaccine and testing certificates or passports maybe the way to let us go safely back to big live events and big concerts. Are you now persuaded that’s the way to reopen the economy safely? And I’m actually interested to know whether Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance think that those sorts of certificates would be a good idea.

Boris Johnson: (35:32)
Chris, you’re first.

Chris Whitty: (35:34)
On the R above one, I mean, I think that until this point in time, until we have vaccination, the inevitable results of cases rising was elderly people’s cases rising, hospitalizations rising and deaths rising. The advantages of vaccination is it allows us to break that and absolute inexorability that there was up to this point in time. And above all to protect those who are most vulnerable from hospitalization and death. So that is absolutely critical. Now, we all know, and the modeling demonstrates as it was released in the same time that the will be subsequent to even with these quite careful one at a time measures that will at some point be a surge of cases and R is going to creep closer to one. At every stage, R is going to creep closer to one. It might, at some point, exceed one and at that point we will expect to start to see some cases rising.

Chris Whitty: (36:27)
But firstly, the vaccination takes a lot of the heavy lifting on this. And once you’ve got a large proportion of the population vaccinated, our expectation is that will pull the natural R that it can get too well down. So that will take a lot of the heavy load. And secondly, we’re expecting that even from this stage, a very high proportion but not all of elderly people and vulnerable people are protected by the vaccination. So the tight linkage between R and deaths is less tight than it was. But the point of the stages the prime minister has laid out are to keep that surge to a low level at the same time as protecting the most vulnerable. That’s essentially is the twin track approach to this. And if we let things go very fast now, the result would be a very significant rapid increase in R, a rapid surge of the virus and then people… We have an incomplete protection from the vaccine at the moment and that would lead inevitably to deaths. So that’s the reason for taking it very steadily as the prime minister has laid out.

Boris Johnson: (37:27)
Rob, on vaccine passports, I think for things like international travel, other countries will unquestionably think of insisting upon them just like you might insist on a certificate that you’ve had a yellow fever jab or whatever. So I think that’s something that’s likely to be important in the conversation about international travel. On the question of what is the role of something like a certificate of vaccination within the domestic UK economy, there are clearly some quite complex issues, some issues, some ethical issues, issues about discrimination and so on. To what extent can government either compel or indeed forbid use of such a certification. I think all that needs to be gone into. And so we’re going to have a review of the whole issue. Before we come to it, as it were, because at the moment the emphasis is on vaccinating everybody, all adults. And that’s got to be right, because that’s the non-discriminatory way to go.

Boris Johnson: (38:38)
But also, and so there may well be a role for certification, but we just need to get it right. And always remember that the advantages of testing, lateral flow testing. So both things together, as I think I said a few days ago, I think will play an important part. But in the course of the coming steps, we’ll be setting out more as I told the House earlier on issues like air travel, on mass events, on big events, on social distancing and on certification. Full reviews, we’ll be doing. Thanks a lot. Let’s go to Sam Coates, Sky News.

Sam Coates: (39:24)
Thank you, prime minister. You’ve said over and over that today’s plan will be irreversible. How can we know that this isn’t an empty promise? If you have to lock down the nation again for a fourth time, would it be a resignation worthy matter? And to both scientists, is it possible, in the opinion of both of you, to have an irreversible unlocking?

Boris Johnson: (39:46)
Sam, I can’t guarantee that it’s going to be irreversible, but the intention is that it should be irreversible. And that’s why we’re going in the way that we are, that’s why we’re taking the steps that we are. And a lot of people will say, why don’t you go faster Or why didn’t you see if you could bring some of this unlocking earlier if things are going well and there are signs that the diseases is continuing to retreat? And for the answer to that, you’ve just got to listen, I think, to what Chris was… When Patrick was saying earlier on about the need for an interval between the relaxations, the unlocking stages. And the need to look at the data, see what’s happened. This disease is capable, as we have seen, this variant is capable of spreading really very fast when you unlock.

Boris Johnson: (40:47)
We saw that in the end of last year in January. We’ve seen how fast it can take off when it gets going. That’s why we got to look at the way the vaccinations are working, we’ve got to look at the data and proceed cautiously. But as I say, I certainly hope, irreversibly. That’s what we want to do. And we don’t want to go back into another lock down. We want to deliver as much security and certainty as we can to the public and to business and to everybody. That’s why we think it’s a reasonable timetable.

Patrick Vallance: (41:29)
And the miracle of the vaccines is extraordinary, if you think about it. We went from having no vaccine for human coronavirus disease at all, ever, to having very effective vaccines in a period of a year. That has never been done before for any other disease. Those vaccines, as we now know from the real world data coming out in the UK and also from Israel, are very effective in practice. That provides an extraordinary bedrock of success from which to think about moving to a normality as a result of that. And the way to do that is to go cautiously as you release, have enough time between measures so you can assess what’s going on and take new measures to release when you’re safe to do so, not beforehand. That’s the path to try and get a gradual approach back towards normality based on that bedrock or vaccine effectiveness.

Boris Johnson: (42:25)
Thanks very much, Sam. Jason Groves, Daily Mail.

Jason Groves: (42:31)
Thanks. Professor Whitty, it was reported at the weekend that you were unhappy about the big bang approach to reopening schools. Can you reassure parents and the wider community that it is safe? And prime minister, we’ve got cases down by 80%, we’ve got the cavalry here in your words, but you’re still way cautious. That sort of buccaneering Boris who won the election, he wouldn’t be waiting four months to let people hug their grandchildren. Again, what’s happened to you? Have you become a gloomster?

Boris Johnson: (43:10)
Why don’t you get the first, Chris, on that one?

Chris Whitty: (43:14)
So I’d like to be reasonably unambiguous on the schools point. I was rather surprised to read what I read in one newspaper and then reported in others since I categorically denied it to the journalists involved, but they still printed it, so fine. So now let me now say very clearly why that is the case. First thing is, it is absolutely universal accepted that there are huge advantages for children to be at school from a health point of view, mental and physical, as well as from educational and from a life course point of view. Those are overwhelming and they are not in any dispute. Everyone accepts that. And if you keep children out of school, every single one of the children you keep out of school is disadvantaged.

Chris Whitty: (43:57)
This was a point that was made by all the chief medical officers and deputy chief medical officers together as a single document, because we wanted all to say how strongly we felt, this is the case. And I’m sure all educational professionals would agree. The second point we made at that time, which is still the case is the risk to children is incredibly low from going to school and indeed from catching COVID. One of the few good things about COVID is the risk to children, whilst not zero, nothing in COVID the risks are zero, the risk costs so much smaller than they are for adults and others. And therefore we are confident that given the huge benefits of school, the very small residual risk is strongly in favor from the child’s point of view, everything is strongly in favor of children, whether primary or secondary, of going to school.

Chris Whitty: (44:46)
And the data on that, I think, are unambiguous. The third question is and this is the one which led to having to close schools this time round, as it did indeed on the first wave is the impact this can have on R. And the view is, as things are pointing down rapidly at the moment, there is some headroom to go ahead. And the first priority as the prime minister has repeatedly said is for schooling and I think everyone would agree with that. We have a natural fire break at the Easter holidays, and we’ve got these five weeks to work out how things are going. So there’s a large number of insurance has built in, and the several things we’re going to be doing this time round on schools, which will take the risk even further down than it has been before, including greater use of testing, wider use of masks and a whole variety of other things which have been incredibly supported by many in the teaching professions.

Chris Whitty: (45:47)
And I really would like to pay a huge tribute to what teachers have done over the whole period because they’ve kept schools going for children of key workers all the way through, including the absolutely worst times. And they’ve done that because they believe so strongly in education as all of us do. And the final thing that is needed is obviously to make sure that as far as possible, schools are a safe working environment relative to all other working environments. And many of the things we’re talking about will help that as well. Because teachers and other teaching professionals obviously want to consider that. But what you look at when you look at the data are that relative to many of the professions that continue to work through this, to nurses, care home workers, many other professions, there’s not zero risk to teaching in any profession. That teachers are not a high risk profession in the way that those kinds of professions are high-risk professions.

Chris Whitty: (46:39)
But I don’t want to diminish that. I’m just saying they should be made as safe as possible, including in environments where people aren’t doing face-to-face classroom teaching. But to go back to the beginning, I think there is a really clear reason why everybody wants children to be in school. And what we therefore have to do is try and reduce the risk as far as we can for students, for parents, for teachers. And the final thing is the vaccination that’s going on at the moment, what’s called the Tier 6 vaccination for JCVI includes people under the age of 65 who’ve got pre-existing health conditions. And for teachers and parents who are in those groups, the vaccination is accelerated because they’re part of the early wave of vaccination. So I just want to put, it’s a long answer, but that’s because I think a lot of parents, a lot of families are wanting to think about this. Indeed, a lot of teachers, obviously want to think about this and I wanted to give a really clear answer to that the best I can. Patrick, you may want to add to that.

Patrick Vallance: (47:40)
Well, that is a very complete answer and I completely agree with it. I think it’s crucial that we get children back to school. The environment, as Chris has said, has been made progressively more safe for children to do that. And we’re in a situation now where if we can get the children back, we can measure, after five weeks, the effect. We’ve got three weeks before the two week holiday-

Patrick Vallance: (48:02)
In fact, we’ve got three weeks before a two week holiday. This is the right thing to do, and it’s right to get that as the top priority.

Boris Johnson: (48:08)
Yeah. And Jason, I don’t think I’m being remotely a gloomster in what I say. Listening to this roadmap, it’s pretty obvious. The crocus of hope is poking through the frost and spring is on its way, both literally and metaphorically. But I won’t be buccaneering, as you put it, with people’s lives, nor will anybody in government. I think when people look at this roadmap, I think actually it’s about as dynamic as it’s possible to be under the circumstances and with a disease and infection while we are. If you’d said to me a few months ago that by June the 21st, we were going to be in a position where we thought it was really credible to open up everything including nightclubs, I would have struggled to believe you quite frankly.

Boris Johnson: (49:05)
But that’s the miracle of the vaccination program that has delivered that. And I think what this roadmap does is it strikes a balance. It allows us to go forward cautiously and not to go back. And I think that’s what people really want. They want to go forward as fast as we reasonably and safely can, and not to be forced backwards again. I think they would rather trade some haste, as I say, for certainty and security about the deadlines that we’re setting. Okay. Thank you. Pippa Crerar of The Mirror.

Pippa Crerar: (49:51)
Good evening. The roadmap promises a review into whether it’s going to be possible to ease social distance signals from June the 22nd. Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick, you’ve both previously suggested that some of those may be in place at the end of the year. Can you give us any idea when we might be able to go back to the office, or more importantly for most people, to hug or kiss our loved ones? Or can we really look forward to an end to social distancing this summer? And Prime Minister, you said earlier in the comments that you will not pull the rug out from under businesses and workers. Yet you’ve told them that they have to wait until the budgets. Many, especially the self-employed and hospitality sector, are already on the brink and now are facing more months of lockdown restrictions, meaning as the country opens up this summer, we could be facing mass job losses. Can you give them the reassurance that they so desperately need now?

Boris Johnson: (50:50)
Yes. Go ahead.

Patrick Vallance: (50:51)
So as we get the population vaccinated, and the ambition is to have all adults have a first dose by the end of July, as the Prime Minister has said, you start to get real protection across the entire population. At that point, many of these things that we’ve got in place now will have gone. It’s possible that coming into next winter, in particular, certain things may be necessary. And Tony Fauci yesterday said in the US that he thought that things like masks may be needed next winter. And I think we’re in the same position, that it may be necessary next winter, to have things like mask wearing in certain situations. Hand hygiene should remain part of the norm. Making sure that if we get the sorts of symptoms that we know are associated with COVID, we stay off work.

Patrick Vallance: (51:43)
Having an effective test, trace and isolate system still in place will be an important part of the baseline measures that we’re talking about. And taking individual responsibility for thinking about where there’s an environment in which there could be a risk, particularly during the winter months, are the sorts of things that I think we should expect for next winter. That’s not the same as a whole raft of NPIs in place restricting movement. Now, all of this depends on what we see and what we measure and how this goes. I’m not making any promises about anything. But those are the sorts of measures that you might expect, I think, as a sort of baseline to be required during winter months. Chris, you may want to add.

Boris Johnson: (52:26)
Pippa, on the hospitality sector, I know how tough it’s been for that sector, and particularly for many female workers in that sector who make up such a large proportion of the workforce. And we will of course continue to support them in any way that we can throughout the pandemic. And Rishi will be, the chancellor will be sending out more next week to go with this roadmap. We’ve already, as you know, done total 80 billion pounds worth of support for the whole economy. On getting people back into work, particularly young people, don’t forget there’s the kickstart program worth two billion pounds on its own to help people enter employment if they lose their jobs in hospitality or retail or any other sector.

Boris Johnson: (53:21)
But the best thing for all these sectors is just to get them open again, in a COVID secure way, on the dates that we’ve set out. We really, really hope not to go backwards. That’s what we’re trying to do. And I think that sense of a date, an ambition, a goal will be, I hope, I hope, will be reassuring to a great many businesses as they take the difficult decisions that they must. Thanks very much. Let’s go to Joe Murphy of The Evening Standard.

Joe Murphy: (53:55)
Thank you very much, Prime Minister, and good evening. Can I ask you all one quick one each to finish off? Sir Patrick, what’s the science underlying the new requirement for secondary school pupils to wear masks for a few weeks? What’s the data that you want to see that’ll mean they can take them off again? Professor Whitty, you spoke about the fantastic uptake of the vaccine, but is it or is it not the case that we are seeing evidence that in some NHS and care home settings people are declining the vaccine in surprising numbers? Could you ever see it being a condition of employment to have a vaccination in a care setting or an NHS setting?

Joe Murphy: (54:39)
And Prime Minister, can I ask you about the future of our great city centers, places like London, Manchester, and Birmingham? With work from home extending to mid summer, is there a risk of them being hollowed out in the center with office workers choosing to stay at home for longer, meaning fewer shoppers, fewer leisure spenders? Is there a division about some people say to you, “Well, accept this as inevitable and maybe turn some of those office blocks into housing.” Other people say what we need is a Marshall Plan for the city centers around the country to recover them and save the businesses that are staring disaster in the face right now.

Patrick Vallance: (55:24)
In schools, ventilation is going to be important as children go back, good ventilation. Masks will add to the protection, and hand washing and good hand hygiene adds to the protection. So, mask wearing during this period when schools are back, secondary schools we’re talking about here in terms of the mask wearing, and then we’ll measure effects of schools going back at the five week time period. Probably four weeks we’ll have the effects, and we’ll be able to see whether things have come back under control in terms of schools being back and no expansion of the epidemic in a way that would mean that we can’t go ahead with the next set of steps. And at that point, I think we can see what the consequences of the various actions are and whether mask wearing continues and for how long it needs to continue as it is in the adult population. And it’s really only for those children who are able to do so in secondary school.

Chris Whitty: (56:19)
On NHS and care home workers, I think what people want to understand is, is the disease a serious disease? I think everyone who works in care homes or in the NHS fully understands that. Secondly, does the vaccine work? And I think today we’ve seen yet further really clear evidence this vaccine protects against mild disease, it protects against asymptomatic disease, which means it can protect people around you, and it protects against severe disease. So, it really works. And the data on safety is reassuring and continues to mount. People want to know about that. And I think those bits of information are getting stronger and stronger the whole time. Actually in most and social care settings that I’ve seen, and the data would back this up, people are really keen to get the vaccine.

Chris Whitty: (57:02)
There are obviously some people who’ve got some caution, and we need to have that discussion with them. But I think my view is clearly for medical staff where I am subject to the same code, it is a professional responsibility for doctors to do things which help protect their patients. And I expect that to be a professional responsibility for all other health and social care staff as well. Now, questions around contracting are not really for me. The only comment I’d make on that is it has been a norm, for example, there’s an expectation if you’re a surgeon, you’ve got a hepatitis B vaccine. So it’s not that this is completely new territory, but I think that’s not really a question for me. That’s a political question. The professional expectation, very strongly my view is professional medical and social care staff should be taking it.

Boris Johnson: (57:54)
Yeah. And Joe, since Chris has said it’s a political question, I suppose I will have to dodge that implication and just say that I think that in the case of care homes, I know that some of the very high-quality care home groups are now looking at what they can do to make sure that their staff are indeed vaccinated. But on your question about the city centers and what’s going to happen, it’s a very, very important question. And I think that there will be changes as a result of the pandemic. And I think that it will accelerate some trends, and it may be that, as you rightly say Joe, there’s opportunities for more residential accommodation in town centers, in high streets, which have been changing the way they work anyway for a long time.

Boris Johnson: (58:49)
But I don’t believe that this is going to mean a fundamental change to the way our life in our big cities really work. So I used to chair TFL for a long time, Transport for London. And I remember the better remote communication gets and the more people can see each other and talk on mobile device and the rest of it, as a paradox, the more actually they want to see each other face to face, for whatever reason. And that I’m sure will come back. And I think that London, our great cities will be filled full of buzz and life and excitement again, provided people have confidence about coming back into those city centers. And then you’ll get all the agglomeration effects that make London such an amazing place and make our cities so amazing. But it’s all going to be about confidence.

Boris Johnson: (59:49)
And that confidence is going to come from the continuing success of the vaccination program and people’s sense that the disease is finally being managed in a way that they understand that it’s being controlled. And as Chris and Patrick have said, that it becomes something like flu that we have to manage and to organize and to live with. And that’s it. And then I think you’ll see life really coming back to normal again. So, when people say that this is going to lead to a massive change in urban life, I’m doubtful. I think that our great cities will bounce back along with the rest of the economy once we’ve got this roadmap delivered. Anyway, that’s all we’ve got time for tonight, everybody. Thank you very much. Thank you.