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Boris Johnson has raised the threat of lockdown rules sweeping back this winter as he warned the nation: “This pandemic is not over.”
The Prime Minister tonight dropped his pledge to make the end of restrictions “irreversible”, instead only saying he “hoped” it will be as cases surge.
Mr Johnson confirmed legal restrictions on wearing masks, the ‘rule of six’ indoors and the ban on nightclubs opening will all go from July 19.
But in a compromise and partial U-turn, he said he will issue tight guidance – which is voluntary, not the law – on Covid passports, masks, vulnerable people and working from home in a massive U-turn.
The PM will lead a review in September, which the government warned could "continue or strengthen public and business guidance as we approach the winter, including on face coverings and test, trace and isolate."
And he said “we must rule nothing out” when asked by Michael from Manchester, who had a question at the No10 press conference, what circumstances could lead to restrictions coming back.
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Boris Johnson at tonight's No10 briefing
(Image: Getty Images)
Mr Johnson said: “We will keep all the data under constant review throughout the rest of this year, probably I’m afraid into next year as well.
“And if we are seeing very exceptional circumstances that you describe, or the arrival of some new variant that we haven’t bargained for, budgeted for, that really is causing us a real problem, then obviously we must rule nothing out.
“And I’ve been very very clear about that.
“We must protect the public and we will not hesitate to use the means that we have at our disposal.
“But the way things are working at the moment, we do think if we are cautious and go slowly, that we can continue with the roadmap as it stands – that is our hope.”
Government scientists believe daily deaths from Covid could hit 100 to 200 at the peak of a third wave – with up to 2,000 hospitalisations per day.
They say that while the link between cases and hospital admissions is weakened due to vaccines, it has not been broken.
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Asked by the Mirror if "100-200 deaths a day was a price you are willing to pay for freedom", Boris Johnson said: "There isn't an optimal time but I think that the reality is that both deaths and hospitalisations are sadly going to rise whenever you go for an unlocking of the kind that we are.
"I think we simply must – as Chris (Whitty) puts it – there will be an exit wave and we simply have to recognise that."
Earlier Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted there would be a “review” of restrictions ahead of the winter.
He told MPs: “In September we will have a review to make sure we’re properly set up for Autumn and for winter.”
Mr Javid explicitly warned that it would have been “much more dangerous” to unlock in winter. Praising the “vaccine wall”, he told Parliament: “We believe this wall means we can withstand a summer wave.
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“And while the wall would be higher still if we waited until winter, we know the wave would be much more dangerous.
“So while we know there are risks with any decision, this is the most responsible decision we can take.”
And the Prime Minister warned unlocking “will only work” if people are cautious and don’t “tear the pants out of” their new-found freedoms.
Mr Johnson told the No10 briefing: “I think it's crucial for everybody to understand that, yes, this is a big package of measures that we're announcing.
"But it will only work as a fourth step if people are cautious in the way that they go ahead with it.
"And that's why I've said all the things that I've said this afternoon about how to do it, and I just underline everything that Chris and Patrick have said.
"In order for this to be irreversible, it's got to be cautious."
But England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty gave a glimmer of hope that lockdown-style restrictions could be avoided.
“We have said from quite a long time ago that there’s likely to be an increase in both Covid and other respiratory infections over winter,” he told the Mirror.
“There is not an inevitability in any way that because we have a surge which may lead to people thinking okay, we need to be a bit more careful, that leads to anything ministers have to do.
“That’s just a reality that we’re going to face in the coming winter and may well face in future winters.”
The PM added: “It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough: this pandemic is not over.
"This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family.
"We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid.
"We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don't normally meet, such as on public transport."