Too early to say if England lockdown can be eased next month, says Johnson

It is too early to say whether the coronavirus lockdown in England could start to be lifted from mid-February as initially hoped, Boris Johnson has said, with Downing Street refusing to rule out it lasting into the summer.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to flood-hit Didsbury in Greater Manchester, the prime minister cited the spread of the newer variant of Covid-19 as a complicating factor.

Announcing a third lockdown in England at the start of this month, Johnson had said the measures would be reviewed during half-term week, in the middle of February. But he said on Thursday: “I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions.”

Asked about the mid-February target, he said: “We’ll look then at how we’re doing but I think what we’re seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we’re seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas – there’s no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.

“It’s not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great.”

Data from the React study carried out by Imperial College London has raised fears that infection rates in England might not be falling. Based on swab tests from more than 142,000 people across England between 6 and 15 January, it suggests that while new infections may have fallen recently they could now be stable or even growing slightly.

Johnson’s spokesman was later asked if he could rule out the lockdown lasting into the summer, but would not.

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The spokesman said: “We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review. It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.”

Johnson said it was “absolutely crucial” to obey the current restrictions “in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead”.


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