‘THERE IS no credible route to a zero Covid Britain or indeed a zero Covid world,’ Tory PM Johnson told Parliament yesterday, setting out his road map to ending the lockdown.
This is despite China having successfully eradicated the virus very early on, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
Johnson said: ‘The road map will guide us cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedom while doing all we can to protect our people against Covid.
‘The threat remains substantial with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall to below the peak of the first wave last April.
‘But we are able to take these steps because of the resolve of the British public and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating more than 17.5 million people across the UK.’
He then suggested that the people of the UK will have to learn to live with the virus.
He said: ‘No vaccine can ever be 100% effective. Like all viruses Covid-19 will mutate.
‘We cannot escape the fact that lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths. This would happen whenever lockdown is lifted, whether now or in six or nine months. There will always be some vulnerable people who are not protected by the vaccines. There is therefore no credible route to a zero Covid Britain or indeed a zero Covid world.
‘We cannot persist indefinitely with restriction which debilitates our economy, our physical and mental well-being and the life chances of our children. And this is why this road map must be cautious but also irreversible.
‘We are setting out what I believe to be a one way road to freedom.’
He said that the first dose of the vaccine will be offered to every adult by the end of July.
He then set out dates by which the re-opening is planned: Step one, on 8th March, will see schools reopening and two people allowed to meet outdoors for a chat. From 29 March, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed. Outdoor sports, including football, golf and tennis will be allowed to resume from 29 March as well.
Step two would see shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality reopening from 12 April in England. Also from 12 April, outdoor hospitality will resume, as well as zoos and theme parks. Step three would start on 17 May with most social contact rules lifted, as well as limited mixing indoors. Johnson said that step four, from 21 June, would see the end of all legal limits on social contact.
Labour leader Keir Starmer responded: ‘I thank the PM for the telephone conversation earlier in the day.’
He agreed with the Tory PM that ‘this has to be the last lockdown’ saying he was glad that the schools were going to open.
He said: ‘We all agree that all pupils should be back in school as soon as possible and that they stay in school. Can he confirm that the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor agree that schools can open in full?’
Johnson replied that he did confirm this and was ‘very grateful to the right honourable gentleman for his overall support,’ suggesting that he has ‘a word with his trade union friends’ to persuade them to support it as well.
However, teachers have said that it is ‘reckless’ to bring back all pupils in England to school together on 8th March. A joint statement by teachers’ unions called for ‘opening phased over a period of time,’ similar to the ‘approach being taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’.
Their statement has been ignored by the PM.
The nine unions signing up to the joint statement are: the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), GMB, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), National Governance Association (NGA), Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), Unison, and Unite.
Commenting, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘The PM’s announcement that all pupils will return to English schools on 8th March demonstrates, again, that Boris Johnson has, despite all his words of caution, failed to learn the lessons of his previous mistakes.
‘Why has the English government not taken the same route as Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland whose cautious, phased approach to school opening will enable their governments to assess the impact a return to the classroom will have on the R rate and to make necessary adjustments to their plans.
‘A “big bang” school reopening brings 10 million people back into crowded buildings with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation. The wearing of face masks by pupils and staff in secondary school lessons is a welcome measure but it is not, on its own, enough.’