Boris Johnson has suggested that there will be no early release from COVID restrictions in England, with 19 July likely to remain the date for Freedom Day.
The prime minister’s comments came following talks with new Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
During a campaign visit to Johnstone’s Paints Limited in Batley, Mr Johnson said: “I had a good conversation yesterday, a long meeting with Sajid Javid, the new health secretary.
“Although there are some encouraging signs and the number of deaths remains low and the number of hospitalisations remains low, though both are going up a bit, we are seeing an increase in cases.
“So we think it’s sensible to stick to our plan to have a cautious but irreversible approach, use the next three weeks or so really to complete as much as we can of that vaccine rollout – another five million jabs we can get into people’s arms by July 19.
“And then with every day that goes by it’s clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we’re very likely to be in a position on July 19 to say that really is the terminus and we can go back to life as it was before COVID as far as possible.”
Mr Javid has described lifting coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible as his “absolute priority” and said there would be “no going back” once they were ended.
The former chancellor struck a less cautious tone on lockdown restrictions as he took over from Matt Hancock, who resigned on Saturday.
But Mr Javid stressed the need to be “careful” in making any changes to ensure they were irreversible, ahead of giving a statement to MPs in Parliament.
Mr Johnson added: “What I think we should do now is continue to take a cautious but irreversible approach and use the next three-and-a-half weeks or so to make sure that we get another five million vaccinations into people’s arms, build up even higher that wall of protection, and then go forward on July 19 as a terminus date when I think that we will be able, really, to return to pretty much life before COVID. That’s what we’re working towards.”
The PM also faced questions about his government’s “moral compass” following the Matt Hancock row.
He was asked what a minister has to do to get sacked – Mr Hancock quit on Saturday after being backed by Downing Street on Friday.
Asked whether it undermined the message about being “all in it together”, Mr Johnson said: “That’s right, and that’s why when I saw the story on Friday we had a new Secretary of State for Health in on Saturday.”
However, when the affair came to light, the PM’s official spokesperson told reporters that Mr Johnson had accepted Mr Hancock’s apology and considered the matter “closed”.