Boris Johnson has confirmed that the government is sticking to the roadmap out of lockdown, with shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens to reopen as planned for stage two on 12 April.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, he said nothing in the Covid data suggested that the plans for the easing of restrictions would have to be changed but cautioned that normality was still “some way off”.
The government also admitted that it might have to extend the foreign travel ban past 17 May because of the situation in other countries, and said that it was still considering the introduction of Covid status certificates.
It comes amid mounting opposition from MPs to the idea of vaccine passports. Downing Street has confirmed that a risk-based “traffic light” system will be put in place with red, amber and green ratings for different countries.
The government announced earlier today that everyone in England will be offered free rapid coronavirus tests twice a week from Friday, as part of a plan to help stop fresh outbreaks of the virus and enable authorities to identify and control new variants.
Boris Johnson accused of launching ‘political attack’ at Covid briefing
Boris Johnson has been accused of using his Covid press conference to make a political attack on Sadiq Khan four weeks before the London mayoral election.
The prime minister repeated his claim that his successor ruined Transport for London’s (TfL) finances through an “irresponsible fares policy”.
However Mr Khan hit back on Twitter by saying Mr Johnson had “lied yet again”.
A spokesman for London Labour said: “It is depressingly predictable that the Prime Minister used a press conference that was supposed to be a vital Covid update to make yet another unprompted political attack.”
Ireland to go ahead with vaccine pass
Meanwhile over in Ireland, the government has confirmed it is developing a “digital green certificate vaccine pass”.
Deputy leader Leo Varadkar said the pass would mean “more freedoms for those who have been vaccinated”.
Mr Varadkar made the comments in a video posted to social media on Easter Monday, as he hailed Ireland’s progress in the battle against Covid-19.
The Tanaiste also said Ireland’s vaccination programme is set to accelerate in the coming weeks, telling the public: “We’re going to surprise you.”
Vaccine passports ‘have a part to play’, says CBI
The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the move to the next stage of the roadmap but warned that companies would need help with the challenges posed by vaccine passports.
CBI director of policy John Foster said: “Knowing the Covid road map is on track can help create the economic momentum the country needs as the second phase of reopening begins.
“The retail and outdoor hospitality sectors can now gear up with certainty and confidence for a safe start.
“Covid status certificates have a part to play in some of the more challenging parts of the economy, like large scale events.
“The government has listened to industry concerns and is seeking to deploy them in a targeted way. These first trials will be watched with great interest.
“Any introduction ought to come with rigorous guidance and enforcement to help firms navigate ethical, legal and practical implementation challenges. “
PM urged not to introduce vaccine passports ‘by the back door’
The leader of the Tory lockdown sceptics has stepped up pressure on Boris Johnson to give MPs a vote on vaccine passports.
It comes after the prime minister told a Downing Street press conference that ministers were still considering plans for Covid status certificates for post-lockdown life.
Mark Harper, chairman of theCovid Recovery Group, said: “In January the prime minister told us vaccines offered us the ‘way out’ of this cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions. By June 21 the government has promised ‘no legal limits on social contact’ or ‘on all life events’.
“So if the government instead wishes to introduce Covid status certificates (domestic vaccine passports) then it should ask parliament to give its approval as ministers have promised.
“Trying to introduce these domestic vaccine passports by the back door by linking them to removing social distancing rules just won’t be acceptable either.
“It is crucial MPs are allowed a vote on this, as Michael Gove promised last week.
“Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, Covid status certification will lead to a two-tier Britain and these issues need debating thoroughly and carefully before we allow them to affect the lives of our constituents.”
After three months, it’s nearly time to get a proper haircut
In England, hairdressers have been closed since the third national lockdown was imposed on 5 January.
With the green light given on infection rates, the government has said that hairdressers, along with other beauty salons, will be permitted to reopen again from Monday 12 April across England.
Here’s more information on how to keep safe while you get your locks shorn.
Travel industry calls for ‘clearer timeline’ on foreign holidays
Travel bosses have criticised the government’s failure to confirm the resumption of foreign travel, after it emerged that ministers were still considering whether to end the ban on 17 May.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of trade body the Business Travel Association, said: “Today’s announcement from the prime minister is beyond disappointing. We are leading the way in vaccination and science. This is a cause of huge celebration, but if we are to restart our economy, we need to have a clear pathway to international travel and trade.
“This has once again been kicked down the road.
“To be a truly global Britain, we must lead the way in opening borders, supporting vital supply chains, and digitising health certification.
“The business travel industry continues to be crippled by today’s lack of movement.
“We ask the government to be confident in its road map as the Global Travel Taskforce reports on 12th April. This is our last resort.”
Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “While we welcome the prime minister’s announcement of a framework for a risk-based approach – which provides some clarity on how testing and vaccine rollouts will facilitate the safe resumption of global flying – it’s disappointing that the opportunity has been missed to provide more certainty to reunite families separated by travel restrictions, to give sunseekers the confidence to book ahead for their summer getaway and to help businesses across the country that have had their exporting ambitions placed on hold by the pandemic.
“Now that a safe, scientifically-backed process has been agreed upon, a clearer timeline for the return to international travel is needed.”
ICYMI: Blood clot risk from Oxford Covid vaccine appears to be linked to younger patients, Neil Ferguson says
Rare cases of blood clots in people who have been given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could raise questions over whether young people should be given a Covid jab, according to leading epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson.
The scientific advisor, who has received the Oxford jab, said the risk of unusual blood clots appeared to be age-related, with younger people more likely to be affected by them.
Conrad Duncan reports:
Chile virus surge shows vaccine rollout may not end lockdowns, says Whitty
England’s chief medical officer gave the example of Chile as he warned that even a successful vaccine rollout might not prevent another lockdown.
Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference that the South American country had vaccinated a significant number of its population, but its Covid-19 rates had increased over the past month.
He said: “Is this due to vaccines used? Is this due to the timing of when things have actually been rolled out? Is it due to particular interactions with other variants? We don’t yet know.
“We absolutely need to learn from those countries that are ahead of us or alongside us in terms of vaccine rollout.”
He added: “The assumption that you vaccinate lots of people and the problem goes away, I think Chile is quite a good corrective for that.”
Chile has vaccinated around 36 per cent of its total population, according to OurWorldinData, compared to the UK’s 46 per cent.
Foreign travel ban could be extended past 17 May
The government has warned that the resumption of foreign holidays could be pushed back beyond 17 May.
Boris Johnson’s original “roadmap” set out a plan that was expected to see foreign travel – for reuniting families and partners, as well as holidays – resume next month.
However the prime minister told the Downing Street briefing: “We can see waves of sickness afflicting other countries. I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or underestimate the difficulties being experienced in countries people might want to go to.
“The Global Travel Taskforce is going to report later on this week. We will be then setting out before 17 May what we think is reasonable.”
The government says it “will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction”.
Vaccine passports ‘some way off’, says PM
The prime minister also said that the introduction of any kind of vaccine passport was “some way off”, and suggested it would not happen before 21 June.
Asked whether children will be required to have vaccine passports should they be implemented, Boris Johnson said: “We’re a way off implementing or enacting anything of the kind for anybody, let alone children.
“I’ve spelt out the ways in which we might think of doing that but it’s not for steps two or three in any event.”
He added: “The principle of requiring some people to have a certificate to prove they are not passing on the disease, like surgeons who have to prove they are vaccinated against hep B or whatever, that can be a sensible one.
“But I want to stress that we are some way off finalising any plans for Covid certification in the UK. The crucial thing is for everyone to get out and get their vaccination when you’re asked to come forward and get your second dose when you are asked to come forward.”