British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the path out of lockdown must be sensible to avoid being forced into a reversal of the relaxation of measures.
Johnson’s comments on Monday came after the government reached its target to vaccinate 15 million people by the middle of this month, a milestone which has fuelled calls for the stringent restrictions to be loosened.
Speaking to people waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine shot, Johnson said the key question was working out to what extent a drop in infections was being caused by the vaccination programme.
“That’s the data we’re having to look at and really work out what is going on,” Johnson said.
Asked about lifting lockdown, Johnson said: “The crucial thing is to make sure we just do sensible steps that are in proportion to where we are.”
“What people don’t want to see is you know just being forced into reverse – we don’t want to do you know a reverse ferret – let’s take it at the right pace,” he said.
Johnson is expected to study the latest coronavirus statistics in the coming days before setting out a road map for exiting the lockdown.
That announcement, expected on February 22, will be seven weeks after the latest strict lockdown was rolled out in response to the troubling spread of a highly infectious variant of the novel coronavirus, initially detected in the southeastern county of Kent.
The government has said it is aiming to reopen schools on March 8 but has been tight-lipped about other possible relaxations to date.
Johnson said his upcoming plan will include the earliest possible dates for reopening the economy, which suffered its biggest crash in output in more than 300 years in 2020, slumping by nearly 10 percent.
“We’ve got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious, but irreversible,” he said. “If we possibly can, we’ll be setting out dates.
“If because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”
In the UK, more than 117,000 people have died from COVID-19, and more than four million infections have been recorded.
Government eyes ‘sensible steps’ out of lockdown
Since the UK’s vaccine drive began about two months ago, nearly a quarter of the population has been inoculated with a first dose.
This impressive milestone has seen some politicians argue that there is now a clear way out of the pandemic.
A group of 63 MPs from Johnson’s Conservative Party wrote to him over the weekend, urging him to begin easing the lockdown in March, and stop all restrictions by the end of April, saying doing so would help restart the economy.
“Covid is a serious disease and we must control it. However, just like Covid, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense social and health damage and have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods,” the letter, sent by the leaders of the so-called COVID Recovery Group, said.
“The vaccine gives us immunity from COVID but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions,” it added.
But high-ranking government ministers rejected those calls; Matt Hancock, the health minister, said on Monday that the hospitalisation and death rates were still too high.
“We’ve got to watch the data,” Hancock told UK broadcaster Sky News. “Everybody wants to get out of this as quickly as we safely can, and both as quickly, but also as safely, are important.
“That’s the judgement that we’re making this week, looking at the data, ahead of the prime minister setting out the road map,” he said.