The majority of vulnerable Brits should have received a vaccine against coronavirus by Easter, Boris Johnson tonight said.
Speaking in a press conference after today’s announcement of a new, tougher system of restrictions for the winter, the Prime Minister hailed the prospect of a number of working vaccines.
“With a favourable wind we should be able to inoculate the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter”, he said.
However, he added that it would not be compulsory for everyone to get the vaccine if they did not wish to.
But, he said, “I totally reject the propaganda of the anti-vaxxers.”
Johnson also warned Britons not to throw away the gains won by the latest lockdown over the Christmas period.
“We hope to let people see a bit more of their family over Christmas,” he said.
“‘Tis the season to be jolly, but also the season to be jolly careful.”
‘Tougher’ tier system to come into effect next week
Earlier Johnson announced the introduction of a “tougher” three-tier system when England leaves its national lockdown next Wednesday.
In a virtual address to the Commons, Johnson said the second national lockdown will be lifted on 2 December in place of a revised system of restrictions that will allow shops, gyms and hairdressers to reopen across the country.
However, people will have to wait until Thursday to find out which tier their area is in, after ministers have been shown fresh data from the government’s top scientific advisers.
“Next Wednesday, people will be able to leave their home for any purpose to meet others in public spaces subject to the rule of six collective,” the PM announced.
Setting out England’s updated tiered system, Johnson said in Tier 1 people should work from home, in Tier 2 alcohol may only be served as part of substantial meal and in Tier 3 indoor entertainment and hotels will close.
Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in Tier 1 and Tier 2, but must remain as takeaway-only services in Tier 3.
The 10pm curfew for pubs and bars will be replaced with a 10pm bell for last orders, with venues allowed to stay open until 11pm.
Collective worship and outdoor sports will also be able to resume across all three tiers.
For the first time since the country’s first lockdown in March, sports fans will be allowed back into outdoor stadiums in areas with the lowest cases of coronavirus.
However, Johnson cautioned that “the incidence of the disease is still widespread in many areas, so we’re not going to replace national measures with a free for all status quo”.
“I’m sorry to say we expect that more regions will fall, at least temporarily, into higher levels than before,” Johnson told MPs.
“But by using these tougher tiers, and by using rapid turnaround tests on an ever greater scale to drive R below 1 and keep it at that, it should be possible for areas to move down the tiering scale to lower levels of restrictions,” he added.
Tier allocations will be based on five criteria, including case numbers across all age groups; cases in those aged over 60; the rate of rise or fall in infections; the percentage of those tested who have the virus; and current and projected pressures on the NHS locally.
Unlike the previous system, there will be no negotiation with local leaders over the classification, with financial support allocated on a uniform per-capita basis.
Johnson said regional tier positions will be reviewed every 14 days, with the restrictions likely to be in place until March.
He added that local areas in Tier 3 would be offered a six-week surge in testing, and suggested it could lead to a form of “freedom passes” where those with a negative Covid result could mix more freely with others who have also tested negative.
Vaccine offers ‘route out’ of pandemic
The Prime Minister praised the prospect of a vaccine, bumped by successful trial results from Astrazeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, but cautioned that it will be “still a hard winter”.
“For the first time since this wretched virus took hold we can see a route out of the pandemic,” he said. “But we are not there yet”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer cautioned that there were “huge gaps” and “risks” in the Johnson’s Winter Covid plan.
The opposition leader demanded a commitment from the PM to improve the country’s contact tracing system, telling the Commons: “For Test and Trace to be effective, it has to be tracing 80 per cent of people. It is nowhere near that.”
“We said to the Prime Minister this needed to be fixed in the period of the national lockdown, and it hasn’t been,” he added.
It comes after official figures released on Friday showed that just 60.5 per cent of people who came into contact with the virus in the week to 11 November were reached by the NHS Track and Trace app.
The figure meant the government app failed to reach 123,000 positive coronavirus cases, and came close to the record low of 59.6 per cent seen at the end of last month.
In a 64 page document setting out the winter Covid strategy, the government today announced it will plug an additional £7bn into NHS Test and Trace, taking its total funding for the year to £22bn.
Downing Street has confirmed a basic plan to allow some households to mix over a few days over Christmas, though details are not due until later this week.
Retailers expressed their relief at the return of the tier system, after weeks of forced closures during the nationwide lockdown.
British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Shops – from high streets to retail parks – play an integral role in the run up to Christmas. While retailers have stepped up their online delivery over the course of 2020, the bulk of Christmas shopping tends to be done in store.
“The government’s decision to keep all of retail open will help to preserve jobs and the economy and help keep Christmas a festive occasion for everyone.”
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, added: “There has been a huge amount of speculation about what would happen after 2 December, and that has inevitably forced businesses to be more cautious about jobs and investment.
“ The government has offered a roadmap for the months ahead — what matters now is that they stick to it to allow businesses to plan with confidence.”