May 10, 2021
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 10
Boris Johnson held a Downing Street press conference on May 10, 2021 to provide updates on COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine distribution. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.
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Boris Johnson: (05:07)
Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin by thanking everyone again for your patience and for the sacrifices that you’ve been making. Businesses, pubs, restaurants that have been waiting to welcome customers back through their doors, grandparents who have gone for months without seeing their grandchildren, weddings postponed, funeral sadly constrained, and religious festivals such as Eid, yet again facing restrictions. And I want to thank you particularly because your efforts have so visibly paid off, giving us the time to vaccinate more than two thirds of all adults across the UK, with more than one third, nearly 18 million people also receiving their second dose, and thereby unquestionably saving many lives. And so it’s precisely because of your efforts that I can confirm today that we’ve met our four tests for further easing the lockdown in England, and Chris will run through the details in a minute. But with deaths and hospitalizations at their lowest levels since last July, and the UK’s four chief medical officers today agreeing a reduction in the alert level, the data now support moving to step three in England from next Monday, the 17th of May.
Boris Johnson: (06:32)
This means the rule of six or two households that is applied outdoors will now apply indoors, and the limit for outdoor meetings will increase to 30. From next Monday, you will be able to sit inside a pub and inside a restaurant, you’ll be able to go to the cinema and children will be able to use indoor play areas. We’re reopening hostels, hotels, BnBs. We’ll reopen the doors to our theaters, concert halls, and business conference centers. We’ll unlock the turnstiles of our sports stadia subject to capacity limits. And from next week, everyone will be able to travel within Britain and stay overnight, meaning schools will also be able to organize trips with overnight stays.
Boris Johnson: (07:23)
We will no longer require face coverings in classrooms or for students in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges. All remaining university students will be able to return to in-person teaching, where they should be tested twice a week. We will increase the number of named visitors for those in care homes from two to five, and residents will have greater freedoms to leave their home without having to isolate on their return.
Boris Johnson: (07:54)
This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality, and I am confident that we will be able to go further. Subject to the impact of step three on the data, we remain on track to move to step four on the 21st of June. And to give business more time to prepare, we’ll be saying more later this month about exactly what the world will look like and what role that could be, if any, for certification and social distancing.
Boris Johnson: (08:29)
And today we’re taking a step towards that moment when we learn to live responsibly with COVID. When we cease, eventually, to rely on detailed government edicts and make our own decisions, based on the best scientific advice about how to protect our families and those around us. So from next Monday, we’re updating the guidance on close contact between friends and family, setting out the risks for everyone to make their own choices. This doesn’t mean we can-
Boris Johnson: (09:03)
… to make their own choices. This doesn’t mean we can suddenly throw caution to the winds. In fact, more than a year into this pandemic, we all know that close contact, such as hugging, is a direct way of transmitting this disease. So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones, whether they’ve had a vaccine, one or two doses, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect. Remember, outdoors is always safer than indoors. And if you’re meeting indoors, remember to open a window and let in the fresh air. Keep getting tested regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms, so you don’t spread the virus without knowing it. And whatever you decide, I must ask you to continue to follow social distancing when not with friends and family, including in workplaces, shops, pubs, restaurants, and other settings.
Boris Johnson: (10:08)
We only have to look at the very sad situation in other countries to see the lethal potential still of this virus. And we must continue to fight the spread of variants here in the UK. While we have no evidence yet to believe that these variants are completely vaccine resistant, we must remain vigilant. So please remember. Hands, face, space, and fresh air. And as we mark mental health awareness week, perhaps also take a moment to check in on friends and family, and see how they’re doing after all that we have been through together. Or if you’re struggling yourself, get the support that you need. Today, we are announcing the single biggest step on our roadmap, and it will allow us to do many of the things that we’ve yearned to do for a long time. So let’s protect these gains by continuing to exercise caution and common sense. Thank you. And over to Chris.
Oh, thank you Prime Minister. The ministers actually set out four tests or moving between the stages. And I’d just like to lay out the data behind each of these tests. First slide please. So the first test was that the vaccine deployment program continues successfully. And I think it’s very clear to everybody in the UK that this has been very successful, a steady roll-out for people for their first vaccination. So we now have just over two thirds of people have had a first vaccine, in terms of adults. And just over a third of adults have had a second vaccine already, starting with the most vulnerable. And this continues thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the NHS.
Next slide, please. The second test was that evidence continues to show that vaccines are sufficiently effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths in those vaccinated. There were original trial data. We now have a very clear data from real world settings. And some of that was published, further data was published by Public Health England today. And this shows that there is somewhere between a 55 and 70% reduction in terms of symptomatic disease for people who’ve had a first vaccine, around a 75 to 85% reduction in terms of hospitalization, and around a 75 to 80% reduction in the chance of someone dying after they’ve had the first vaccine. We also have data, particularly from the Pfizer vaccine. It’s accumulating for [inaudible 00:13:06] which we started to roll out slightly later, demonstrating that the second dose significantly further increases the protection, so that over 90% and possibly over 95% protection for people from death, if they have that vaccine. So this is undoubtedly, this test has been met.
Next slide, please. There is however an important point to make on this. And that is that we know that the mortality, the chance of dying and the chance of having severe disease, is much more weighted towards people who are older or have preexisting health conditions. And on the left-hand side of this graph, what we have is over the period of this pandemic, the total number of people who have sadly died of COVID in England. And what you can see is the red line demonstrates the age group to which we’ve got. So the majority of people in every age band over the age of 40 have now had a first vaccine, and a significant proportion of those at the top end of this have had a second booster dose. And they have got a lot of protection, but remembering this protection is not 100%.
But on the right, what you see is the total number of people who actually have cases of COVID. And what this shows is that a substantial proportion of the people who catch COVID, and some of whom will get significant long-term problems themselves, but also who transmits COVID have not yet been vaccinated. This tells us a very positive thing, that a lot of protection to those who are the most vulnerable, but additionally it makes clear why it is that if we go too fast at this stage when things have gone so well thanks to the efforts of the entire population, that there is a risk of significant spread amongst those in the younger age groups. Next slide, please. The third test is that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalizations that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. And as the Prime Minister has said, the view of all the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the medical director of the NHS, based on advice from DBC, is not only that rates in hospital are very low, which we can see in this graph showing there’s been a steady decline, and the number of people who’ve dying from COVID is now very small, indeed, thankfully in the UK. But that we do not think there is a likelihood in the next period after this upsurge, of how seeing a significant increase in pressure on the NHS. Although some increase in transmission should be assumed as a result of the opening up that the Prime Minister has laid out.
Next slide, please. The final test, and in a way the most difficult test, is the assessment of the risk from variants of concern. These are new variants of COVID, which might be one or other, or both of, either more transmissible than existing ones. And everyone in the country will remember that when the B1.1.7. Variant first started emerging in Kent, it then spread incredibly fast. So more transmissible ones are potentially a problem, or ones which could cause problems with vaccination.
And we do have some confidence that the vaccines we have provides a reasonable degree of protection from severe disease, but that can be reduced with some of the existing variants, including the one B1.351, first described in South Africa, but others could emerge or we might get more transmissible ones. And we have a concern at the moment about a variant called B1.617. 2, rather snappy name, first described from India. And this is actually spreading from very small amounts, but it is beginning to spread in certain parts of the country. And we need to keep quite a close eye on this. So the point about this is, the threats are significantly reduced, but there are still some residual issues that we need to keep a very close eye on. And therefore we need to go carefully and steadily as the Prime Minister has said.
Boris Johnson: (17:28)
Thanks so much, Chris. Patrick, anything to add at this stage? Then let’s go to members of the public and from York.
Speaker 1: (17:36)
What proportion of recent daily infections is found to come from variants of concern, other than the Kent variant?
Boris Johnson: (17:46)
Chris, I think I’m going to pass that one to you.
Yeah. So the numbers in terms of actually how many there are, were in the last slide. So I think people may want to look at the exact numbers. The proportions at the moment are less than 5% are variants…
Portions at the moment are less than 5%, are variants which are not the B.1.1.7, the Kent variant, which is the dominant one in the UK. But that’s changing the whole time. Most of them are currently relatively stable. They’re not increasing at a great rate. The one that is slightly concerning us in terms of increasing as a proportion is the variant which has been described from India. And that is in certain parts of the UK. And that does appear to be increasing, but from very low levels over the last two weeks.
Boris Johnson: (18:35)
Thanks very much. And thank you, Chris. Francis from Lincoln.
Speaker 2: (18:38)
With the roadmap set to open up for physical contact, e.g. hugs from the 17th May, how are you planning to protect the unvaccinated under forties teachers and support staff who will undoubtedly feel the consequences of this?
Boris Johnson: (18:55)
Well Francis, thank you very much. And I know there’s going to be a lot of people thinking about the guidance on hugging and how if at all they should respond. And I would say as I said in my earlier remarks, obviously, you should do it if you think it’s appropriate and if you think the risks are very, very low. But you should exercise care and common sense. And clearly with unvaccinated people, there must be a greater risk of transmission than those who have had vaccination. But don’t forget, Francis, that even with two doses of the vaccine, although you will be at much less risk of death or hospitalization, there is still a risk of transmission, even though it’s greatly reduced. So basically, Francis, it’s up to all of us to exercise common sense and caution in the way we do it. Let’s go to Hugh Pym of the BBC.
Hugh Pym: (20:02)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Is it possible that you might even bring forward the June 21st date for the final stage of the roadmap and the lifting of all legal restrictions? Or will you definitely stick to that as the earliest possible time?
Boris Johnson: (20:17)
Hugh, I think it’s very important that we should proceed cautiously. But as I’ve said many times now, hopefully irreversibly. And the secret of the success that we’ve had so far I think has been that we have been guided by the data and we’ve given time to see the effect of each successive stage on the roadmap. So from March 6th to April 12th, and then from April 12th to May 17th, and then on to June 21st, we’ve given ourselves a breathing space. What’s happening today, or what’s happening on Monday 17th, everybody should understand, is very considerable unlocking. And there will be a lot of extra movement, a lot of extra contact. That’s just inevitable from what’s happening.
Boris Johnson: (21:12)
We think we can do it, but it’s got to be done in a way that’s cautious. And I think we’ll want to have time to see the effects. You’ve heard what Chris has said about the presence of the Indian variant and other variants. We’ve just got to monitor these things as we go along. And I think what business would want to see getting ready for the 21st is as much certainty about that as possible. And that’s what we aim to deliver. Thank you very much, Hugh. Romilly Weeks of ITV.
Romilly Weeks: (21:49)
Prime Minister, now you’re telling people to use their own judgment on hugging, given that it is a significant factor in the spread of COVID. Are you expecting people to be extremely cautious about who and how often they hug? If I can also ask who you’re looking forward to hugging. And last week you said there was a good chance we could scrap social distancing rules altogether after June 21st. The scientists doing the modeling suggests we have no idea what will happen if that is done. Would that really be a wise move in that case?
Boris Johnson: (22:20)
Thanks very much, Romilly. Well I just repeat what I said. I think whoever I hug, I can assure you that will be done with caution and restraint. I’m not going to act it out now. But I think we all know what we mean. It’s about basic common sense. And when it comes to social distancing from June 21st, I look at the data very carefully. And I think at the moment, it looks to me as though we may be able to dispense with the one meter plus rule. That’s not yet decided, it’s not yet clear. We’ll have to wait and see. But it’s by being prudent and being cautious that we’ve been able to make the progress that we have. As I say, we’ll be saying more to everybody, more to business to give everybody as much clarity as we can about how they should prepare by the end of this month getting ready for June 21st. Chris or Patrick, anything you want to add on the great hugging question?
Patrick Vallance: (23:25)
I’ll answer on the question about the post June 21st. And what the modelers have done is made an assumption that’s still some residual reduction in transmission, and that’s due to a number of things. Hopefully, better ventilation. There’ll still be people who are working from home who can work from home and it’s right for their business to do so. There will still be behaviors that we’ll all demonstrate, which means that contacts probably won’t be back to pre-pandemic levels. So on average, pre-pandemic, adults and children, roughly 11 contacts per day, currently it’s down to about four or so for adults. So it will probably remain down for a while to come. It’s important that we continue to isolate if positive or with symptoms. That’s really, really important to reduce the number of people out in circulation who are potentially able to pass the virus on.
Patrick Vallance: (24:23)
And then there may be other things as well required in certain circumstances. And it may be as winter comes and if rates went up again, things like covering face coverings on transport might be necessary. But this is that first traunch of things, that first group of things that are really important in terms of keeping down the levels. And those aren’t big impositions on any of us. They’re A, what we’re going to do probably in terms of how we interact with each other, and B, things like the ventilation, the ability to still stay working from home if it’s appropriate to do so.
Boris Johnson: (24:58)
Thanks very much, Romilly. Tom Newton Dunn, Times Radio.
Tom Newton Dunn: (25:04)
Thank you, Prime Minister. A question to all three of you if I may. I’m working from home. I know you’re going to give business time [inaudible 00:25:11], you’ve said that. But so that they can start to think about it now, is working from home going to go as terms of guidance on June 21st? Or should people be thinking about that continuing through the summer, through the autumn, potentially even through Christmas? And Prime Minister, you won’t say who you’ll hug first, but who will you shake hands with first? And when are you going to start shaking hands again? You were one last to stop shaking hands maybe. Who are you going to shake hands with when you’re allowed to and when will that be?
Boris Johnson: (25:39)
Tom, on all that, we’re going to be giving… As I said, I mean I don’t want to be… Your question is a very good one. But I think we’re going to wait and give you a more detailed and more guidance about exactly what we mean by the end of social distancing later this month. I’m optimistic that things will get back much closer to normality, let me put it like that. But clearly, people are going to continue to want to exercise their own judgment, their own discretion for a long while to come. But you’ll hear a lot more by the end of this month about exactly what the world after June 21st is going to look like. At the moment, I’m feeling very positive about it, but we’ve got to be guided by the data. Anything to add onto that? Thank you very much. Jason Groves, Daily Mail.
Jason Groves: (26:37)
Thanks, Prime Minister. Can I ask the scientist, given the excellent data we’re getting on the success of the vaccines, could this now potentially be the last lockdown that we see [inaudible 00:26:52] the emergence of any terrible new variant? And Prime Minister, can I just pick you up on that last point? You’ve said in the past…
Jason Groves: (27:02)
Last point, you’ve said in the past that you would like to see people back at their desks at the end of all this. Is that how you see the future? Do you think people can work as effectively there? Or has working from home got a big part to play in the future still?
Boris Johnson: (27:20)
Last lock down, Chris, Patrick?
Patrick Vallance: (27:23)
I mean, as the Prime Minister has said, this is a big step that’s being taken now. In step three, lots of things are starting up again. Over the next month, there’ll be many more people vaccinated. So the balance is between opening up and getting enough people vaccinated to be protected. So it’s important that we don’t get out of step with that and go ahead of ourselves.
Patrick Vallance: (27:43)
I think things are really pointed in the right direction. We’ll have a much clearer idea of the effects of step three in mid June. So we’ll know what effect that’s had. But everything is pointed in the direction that the vaccines are producing very effective reduction in hospitalizations and death, as Chris has said. We know that they’re also reducing onward transmission.
Patrick Vallance: (28:07)
All of that points to this now being a much smoother path. It points to a lower increase than you might otherwise have expected with another wave. And things, if they carry on without variants, are definitely pointed in the right direction.
Boris Johnson: (28:24)
Yeah. And Jason, on your point about, “What’s the world going to look like? Are people going to get back to work? Do we want people to get back to work?” Well, I just remember when I was running, I feel like I made this point before observing a sort of paradox of transport, which is that the more people can communicate remotely with brilliant electronic devices, the more able they are to meet other people over the internet or through the ether, the more reasons they actually find to meet face to face.
Boris Johnson: (28:58)
And I’m pretty certain, and I know this is contested, but I’m pretty certain that eventually our town centers and our city centers are going to be full of bustle, full of people wanting to interact again in the way that they always have done. Now I might be mistaken in that belief, but I’ve a long experience of watching the way a great metropolises operate, leads me to suppose that that is what will happen. Seb Payne of the Financial Times.
Seb Payne: (29:34)
Thank you very much Prime Minister. What you’ve announced today suggests that the pandemic is beginning to become under control, and we may be past the worst of the crisis. Where do you think it would be reasonable and not irresponsible, then, for Scotland to hold a second independence referendum? And for Professor Whitty, your slide showed that the number of cases of the Indian variant have doubled in the last week. Are you at all concerned this could destabilize the lockdown easing plans, and could lead to a further lockdown in the Autumn?
Boris Johnson: (30:06)
Well, Seb on your first point, I had good conversations with all the heads of the involved administrations, and I can tell you everybody was resolved that the number one priority for the whole of the UK was to build back better, come out of the Corona virus pandemic, and build that better together.
On the Indian variant. I mean, the fact there are currently three Indian variants, but the one that we’re worried about at the moment in the UK is the sixth one, 7.2. It has gone up very sharply, and I think that’s a reason for us to be very careful about it. And there’s a lot of work being done by Public Health England to try and delineate where it is, and to work out where ways, by testing and isolation, we can get on top of the curve of that.
India has also gone into the red list, which means that new people coming in will have been significantly reduced. But I think, in answer to both your question and to the previous one, what we know is with all the variants that things can come out of a blue sky. You’re not expecting it, and then something happened. That happened, obviously, with the B117, and that has happened to India with this variant as well.
So I think it would be very imprudent to say it is impossible. I think at this point in time, I think our view is that this is a highly transmissible variant, at least as transmissible as the B117 variant. It is possible it is more transmissible, but we’ll have to see. At this point in time, our view is it is less likely to be able to escape vaccination than some of the other variants, particularly the African one. But the data are not properly in there. So I think we need to be cautious until we’ve seen clear data that gives us an answer one way or the other.
The reason I’ve given that as a relatively technical answer is, of course, we don’t know whether this is going to cause significant problems in the Autumn. The way to deal with that is identify the cases, which have been happening, isolate where we can, which is also happening, get through the rest of the vaccination program, and ensure that we have the capacity to pick these up and also to re vaccinate as necessary when the Autumn comes.
The final point on this is the way to minimize the number of variants that circulate is obviously get on top of this as a global problem. And that’s something which all of us are absolutely determined to support.
Boris Johnson: (32:33)
Thanks very much, Seb. Adam Bienkov of Business Insider.
Adam Bienkov: (32:39)
Prime Minister, you were on record as opposing the last government’s plans for compulsory photo ID cards, which you described as a recipe for tyranny and oppression. Why, therefore, are you now planning to bring forward, in the Queen’s speech, legislation which would force all voters to carry photo ID in order to vote?
Adam Bienkov: (32:55)
And given the fact that there was just a single conviction in the entire country for in-person voter fraud at the last general election, and given the study show that Labor voters are much less likely to possess photo ID than Conservative voters, what do you say to people you suggest this is merely an attempt to suppress the votes of people who may not vote for the Conservative Party?
Boris Johnson: (33:13)
Adam, I would say that was complete nonsense. And what we want to do is to protect democracy, the transparency, and the integrity of the electoral process. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask first-time voters to produce some evidence of identity. So that’s the reason. Okay, everybody, thank you very much, indeed. Thank you.