Covid-19 ‘escape route’ in sight, says Prime Minister

The Prime Minister has said he can see an escape route out of the Covid-19 pandemic during a statement to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.

Boris Johnson, who is still self-isolating, was speaking via video link to MPs and outlined the return of the Rule of Six, business events up to a certain capacity and a return to a tiered system when the national lockdown in England ends next week.

Speaking on the same day that the Oxford University/Astra Zeneca vaccine breakthrough, Johnson said that the “scientific cavalry is in sight” and that the UK has ordered 350 million doses of the three different vaccines that have so far proved successful in trials – enough to safeguard every UK citizen at home and overseas.

However, he urged caution, adding: “We’re not there yet. We need to get through through the winter without squandering the gains we’ve made during the last few weeks. That’s why our Winter Plan can help us get through until the Spring.”

The Prime Minister warned that the previous tier system hadn’t been enough to reduce the R number below 1. This time around, he said, the tiers would be tougher. In Tier 1 people would be encouraged to work from home. It Tier 2 hospitality venues would only be allowed to open if they served a substantial meal, and in Tier 3 all hospitality venues would be closed, except for takeaways. He said that most areas would, from next week, fall into higher tiers than they were previously in – and that these will be regional rather than on district terms and will be announced on Thursday of this week (November 23).

All gyms, hairdressers and personal care businesses will open again next Wednesday, he added, and outdoors sports can resume. Previous tiers not quite enough to reduce R number below 1.

The Prime Minister also outlined the launch of a major community testing programme offering all Tier 3 communities a “six week surge” of testing.

He ended by saying: “This is not a pandemic without end. From next month the NHS will embark on a vaccine programme the likes of which we have never seen before. An escape route is in sight.”

Chris Fletcher, director of policy and communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Prime Minister has confirmed with today’s Winter Covid Plan that the current lockdown measures will end on December 2nd and that a new set of regional tiers will replace them.

“It is vital to note that the new Tier system is different to the one in place before the current lockdown measures started earlier this month.

“For many businesses in the hospitality sector there is little immediate cheer as regards Tier Three measures when only takeaway and delivery services will be allowed and many will be anxiously waiting on the week’s second announcement on Thursday when confirmation of what Tier regions will be in.

“With current infection rates falling, but still substantially higher than the national average, it is hard to see anything but the highest level of restrictions being imposed next week.

“There is some good news with retail being re-opened and loosening of other restrictions alongside more widespread testing and progress on vaccines, but without the prospect of adequate business support for those still unable to trade fully it could be a very long Winter indeed and for many the economic challenges will intensify before they get better.”