He warned no decision had been made on the lifting of restrictions and the next few weeks were “unquestionably going to be tough”. In yet a further blow for Brits hoping to soon be freed from lockdown restrictions for good, a Downing Street official has also refused to rule out a ‘lockdown 4’ being introduced later in the year.
When asked this morning whether it was likely the country could be kept under lockdown until the summer, Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions.”
He added: “We’ll look on February 15 at how we’re doing but I think what we’re seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we’re seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas – there’s no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.
“It’s not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great.”
The Prime Minister urged the public to continue abiding by lockdown rules, saying it was “absolutely crucial” if the rate of transmission was to be reduced.
A new Imperial College study has sent alarm bells ringing through Whitehall, with evidence suggesting the current restrictions might not be doing enough to cause a drop in infections.
Based on the results of swab test taken from almost 150,000 people outside of hospitals, the number of age-65s and over who had the virus has more than doubled since the start of December.
Imperial College’s Steven Riley said: “There’s no evidence of signs they are decreasing, ten days into lockdown.
“The deaths we’re seeing now are from levels of prevalence very similar to this.
“We can’t expect them to drop to low levels.”
Mr Johnson’s warning lockdown could last until the summer comes just days after he suggested restrictions could be relaxed in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister said things “will be very different by the spring” and while there would be no “great open sesame” in the lifting of lockdown, measures could be gradually reduced.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was also upbeat on the ending of restrictions last week when he said the UK was “going to have a great British summer”.
A Downing Street official this afternoon set out exactly what would need to happen before the current restrictions could be relaxed, failing to put a timescale on the Government’s exit strategy.
He also refused to rule out a new lockdown further in the year, only saying it was the Government’s “hope” current one would be the last.
Any attempt to prolong restrictions is likely to be met with heavy backlash from Conservative MPs.
Earlier this week Express.co.uk revealed there is already mounting frustration among Tory backbenchers at the lack of a detailed exit strategy for the current measures.
Even some MPs who backed the third lockdown for England now want the Prime Minister to outline his plan to end coronavirus rules.
More to follow…