FREEDOM: BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
Stark warning of ‘potential super spreading events’
BORIS Johnson set Britain free yesterday – but then warned that it could come at a price.
And he told young people to get a jab or be banned from all public events.
The Prime Minister said that ending social distancing is the right thing to do because keeping restrictions in place will only “delay the inevitable”.
And as the nation enjoyed its first day of freedom, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance also warned that nightclubs could be “potential super spreading events”.
Some 35 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds – three million people – are unvaccinated compared to far higher coverage in older
age groups. The PM warned the pandemic is far from over and the only way to stop Covid measures being reimposed is by “continuing to be cautious”.
Mr Johnson, who spent Freedom Day isolating at Chequers after being pinged, announced Covid passports showing vaccine status will be introduced in September for nightclubs and crowded indoor events.
The PM said he wants the country to “enjoy the fruits of our massive efforts and our enormous vaccination campaign”.
He added: “But to do that we must remain cautious and we must continue to get vaccinated.
“And that is why we are asking you to come forward and get your jabs now.”
Soaring Covid case rates have fuelled concerns about the decision to push ahead with the so-called Freedom Day.
But Mr Johnson said the country is at a tipping point now that most adults have been vaccinated.
Deaths and hospitalisations are rising, but “well within the margins” expected at this stage by scientists.
The school holidays provide a “firebreak” and failure to open up now risks “even tougher” conditions in the colder months, it was said.
The PM added: “There comes a point after so many have been vaccinated when further restrictions no longer prevent hospitalisations and deaths, but simply delay the inevitable.
“And so we have to ask ourselves the question,
if not now, when?”
Mr Johnson said he hopes the changes yesterday are irreversible. But he said he “can’t guarantee that” and “we’ve got to be humble in the face of nature”.
Latest figures show 82.4 million Covid jabs have been given in the UK, with 36 million of those second doses.
By yesterday morning, a further 39,950 lab-confirmed Covid cases were recorded and another 19 people died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
Sir Patrick added that around 60 per cent of those admitted to hospital with Covid were unvaccinated.
He said the vaccine is “very effective, but not 100 per cent” and that it is “inevitable” that there will be people who still catch the virus and end up needing treatment.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said lifting the rules will have a knock-on effect on infection numbers in the next week or so and on hospital admissions in the middle of August. Prof Van-Tam said the spread of the disease will be “driven by human behaviour over the next four to six weeks” and warned against close contact in crowded indoor spaces.
He said: “So really, it is kind of in everybody’s hands, yours and mine.
“If we are gradual and cautious, and we don’t tear the pants out of this just because we’re glad to have our full freedoms back, then we will materially affect the size and shape of the remainder of this epidemic curve and where the peak occurs, and how big it is.
“It is literally in the hands of the public, in terms of the behaviours.”
Every adult has been offered a first jab, with 96 per cent of over-50s and 83 per cent of those aged 30 to 50 in England taking it up.
Mr Johnson said some of life’s “most important pleasures and opportunities” such as travel will be dependent on being able to prove vaccine status.
By the end of September, when all over-18s will have had their chance to be double-jabbed, full vaccination will become a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather, he said.
Mr Johnson insisted he did not want a situation where people are asked to “produce papers” to get into pubs, but did not rule it out.
The PM said: “I certainly don’t want to
see passports for pubs.” But in enclosed crowded places with close social contact, “we reserve a right to do what is necessary to protect the public”.
Professor Andrew Hayward, from University College London and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the country is heading into the “biggest wave of Covid infection that we have ever seen”.
He said that even with the vaccine and a cautious approach, deaths are likely to be in the low tens of thousands “if we just went back to normal activity”.
Prof Hayward added: “I think this remaining cautious is really a key thing in this unlocking of legal restrictions.”