Live as Boris Johnson holds press conference amid rising concern over Indian variant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holding a press conference amid rising concern about the Indian Covid variant.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 5:09 pm
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 5:10 pm

Mr Johnson has called a Downing Street press conference after Public Health England (PHE) confirmed that four people have died from the India Covid variant, which is spreading in parts of the UK.

The start of the press conference has been delayed until 5.30pm.

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Boris Johnson, Patrick Vallance and Chris Witty at an earlier press conference.

Live as Boris Johnson holds press conference amid rising concern over Indian variant

Last updated: Friday, 14 May, 2021, 18:29

PM to speak at 5.30pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the next stages of easing lockdown in England can go ahead as planned from 17 May, including the return of international travel.

No 10 has confirmed that Step 3 of the lockdown roadmap, which also includes the reopening of indoor hospitality, will take place no earlier than 17 May, following a further review of the data and the four tests.

However, Mr Johnson has called a Downing Street press conference on Friday (14 May) after Public Health England (PHE) confirmed that four people have died from the India Covid variant, which is spreading in parts of the UK.

Second doses to be given sooner

Second doses of coronavirus vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable across the country to be given eight weeks after the first dose amid a rise in cases of the Indian variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said

Stage four of lockdown could be delayed

The Indian variant could make it “more difficult” for England to move to step four of the Government’s road map out of lockdown in June, Boris Johnson said.

New variant could pose a “serious threat"

Boris Johnson has warned that the Indian coronavirus variant could “pose a serious disruption” to plans to ease restrictions and “could make it more difficult” to end them as hoped in June.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

“But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.”

No evidence yet to suggest vaccines less effective

Boris Johnson said that if the Indian variant proves to be “significantly more transmissible” than other strains “we’re likely to face some hard choices”.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I’m told that if it is only marginally more transmissible we can continue more or less as planned but if the variant is significantly more transmissible we’re likely to face some hard choices.”

But he said there is “no evidence to suggest that our vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation”.

Remaining second doses to be accelerated

Boris Johnson has said that remaining second doses for the over-50s will be accelerated so they come eight weeks after the first.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I believe we should trust in our vaccines to protect the public whilst monitoring the situation as it develops very closely because the race between our vaccination programme and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter and it’s more important than ever therefore that people get the protection of a second dose.

“So following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation we will accelerate remaining second doses to the over-50s and those clinically vulnerable right across the country so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose.”

Boris Johnson added: “We will also prioritise first doses for anyone eligible who has not yet come forward including the over 40s.”

Vaccine rollout to be accelerated in Bolton and Blackburn

The PM said the army would be deployed on the streets of Blackburn and Bolton handing out tests to help the surge testing efforts.

There will also be an acceleration of the vaccine rollout there, including longer opening hours at vaccination centres.

“If you’re seeing loved ones, think really carefully about the risk to them, especially if they haven’t had that second dose or if it hasn’t yet had time to take full effect,” he said.

He added: “I want us to trust people to be responsible, and to do the right thing. That’s the way to live with this virus while protecting the NHS and restoring our freedoms.

“It’s very clear now we’re going to have to live with this new variant of the virus for some time so let’s work together, and let’s exercise caution and common sense.”

Positive tests “stable"

Chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Chris Whitty described the number of people who are testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK as “on a steady downward path and is stable” in terms of the overall numbers.

There is also a “steady decrease” in the numbers of people who are in hospital.

He said the number who have died following a Covid test has been steadily decreasing with the most recent seven-day average standing at seven deaths a day.

PM defends border decision

The PM defended not closing the UK’s borders to India sooner, saying that between March and April the South Africa variant was of greater concern than the India variant.

“Don’t forget everyone coming from India, or indeed anywhere else, had to face very tough quarantine rules,” he added.

“We are concerned about this variant and we do think, I think, that it certainly may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the road map, but they don’t at the moment, change the assessment about about (the next) step.”

The PM said that even in Bolton the NHS was not seeing an increase in hospital admissions and the level of hospitalisations across the country remains “quite flat”.

“What we’re saying is that the public needs to be aware of this barrier to particularly in areas where it is more prevalent,” he said.

Mr Johnson said that the UK would have to see how the transmissibility of the India variant “pans out”.

“We will react as soon as we can see clear and unambiguous data about this, and we will do whatever it takes to protect the people in this country,” he said.

Vaccine programme delays not expected

Professor Chris Whitty said delays to the vaccination programme for younger people are not expected.

England’s chief medical officer told the Downing Street press conference: “The prioritisation of second doses will not, we think, delay the situation, the rollout, for people who are in younger ages.”

Lockdown stage four not “impossible"

A downbeat Boris Johnson has said he does not think it is “impossible” to go ahead with step four of the road map to easing coronavirus restrictions.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: “This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that we will be able to go ahead with step four.

“I don’t think that’s the case at all. But it does now mean there’s the risk of disruption and delay, and delay to that ambition, and we have to be utterly realistic about that.”

Indian variant is elsewhere in UK

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that Bolton is not the only place which has the new variant as it is “quite widely seeded in a number of parts of England and indeed elsewhere in parts of the four nations of the United Kingdom”.

The rates in Bolton, which had been going down, have been going up “very significantly over the last couple of weeks.”

He told a Downing Street press conference that, importantly, the rates in people aged over 60 have not been going up, which is key as it tends to correlate with the number of people going into hospital, some people become severely ill and those who die.

He added that “this may be a delay or the vaccine is helping to protect those who are older and who are vaccinated”.

Variant data “will come in time"

Prof Whitty said the UK was sticking to the tests it set itself when it first laid out the road map out of lockdown.

“(The) vaccine deployment programme remains successful, vaccines are reducing hospitalisations and deaths – there is very clear evidence they are and nothing has changed on that.

“Infection rates are not causing NHS pressure – the data on that is really clear, and with the variants of concern, excluding the (India variant), really there’s no change – most of them are relatively stable.”

Prof Whitty said that the UK’s leading scientists still believed that vaccination would protect against severe disease and hospital admissions from the variant.

“We’re not so confident about the degree to which it protects against milder disease and transmission, and that’s just because we don’t have the data but that will come with time,” he said.

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