PM warns of 'difficult winter ahead' before coronavirus vaccine rollout can begin

Boris Johnson has warned the “drumming hooves of the cavalry” are not here yet, despite positive news over a British-developed vaccine against coronavirus.

Monday, 23rd November 2020, 8:02 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd November 2020, 8:05 pm

The Prime Minister today set out the new plan to suppress coronavirus over the winter, with restrictions set to stay in place until March.

The new toughened-up tiered approach was described by Mr Johnson in the Commons as being designed to get the country “safely to spring”.

But he said the stringent rules were needed now because “without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge”, as the rollout of any vaccine would take time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA

Mr Johnson is expected to reveal plans to allow families to mix over Christmas over coming days, but before the festive season - from December 2 - the country will return to a regional approach after a month of national lockdown.

At a Downing Street briefing tonight Mr Johnson said that which tier areas would be placed in would be announced on Thursday, and he said: “When we come out of lockdown next week we must not just throw away the gains we have all made.”

It comes after AstraZeneca and Oxford University reported that their vaccine was up to 90 per cent effective in preventing the virus, with plans for 700m doses to be ready globally by the end of March next year.

But Mr Johnson said the country faced months which “will be hard, they will be cold”, before they can be offered, hence the return to regional restrictions.

But Government scientific advisors warned that Tier 1 measures alone are not enough to prevent the rapid growth of coronavirus, and a fourth tier may be needed in areas where Tier 3 restrictions are not sufficient.

Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman earlier urged the PM and Health Secretary Matt Hancock not to lift national measures.

He said that the tiered approach had not worked in Kirklees in West Yorkshire to bring down rates, while national measures had.

And he said: “This is a national emergency, and his policy announced today will end up with critical and perhaps tragic results for my constituents and for our country.”

But Mr Hancock said: “It is necessary that Tier 3, in particular, is tougher than before, not least because of the experience of Huddersfield, Kirklees and other places that were in Tier 3 for quite a long time, but saw a flattening rather than a reduction in their rates. That is why we have brought in a tougher Tier 3.”

Under the new system, in Tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal. While in Tier 3, pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery services, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close.

The 10pm curfew will be relaxed, with last orders now closed at that time and premises ordered to shut at 11pm.

But the changing lockdown rules will be “next to impossible to police”, the Police Federation has said.

And Tory former chief whip Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative lockdown critics, said they had to be convinced any measures will save more lives than they cost.

“Many will hold their judgment on these measures until we know which areas will go into which tiers,” he said in the Commons.

Mr Johnson said: “I really am now assured things really will look and feel very different indeed after Easter and that idea of an end goal or date is important because at last - if the promise of the vaccines is fulfilled - we do have something to work for.”

He said: “The problem is not a shortage of hope or a lack of optimism [...] the challenge now as we face this difficult winter ahead is to fight down any over-optimism to master any tendency to premature celebration of success.”