Boris Johnson has seen “nothing in the data” to mean the 21 June easing of lockdown measures can’t go ahead – although he said there was a need to wait “a little bit longer” for a firm decision.
The fourth and final stage of the prime minister’s roadmap for easing coronavirus rules – dubbed “freedom day” and when the government aims to remove all legal limits on social contact – is scheduled to take place in less than three weeks.
But, in recent days, Mr Johnson has faced growing calls from scientists to delay the full lifting of restrictions due to the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus, which is believed to be more transmissible, within the UK.
Speaking in Downing Street on Wednesday, the prime minister appeared positive about the prospects of his roadmap remaining on track for 21 June.
Yet he stressed a need to be “cautious” due to “ambiguous” data on how successful the UK’s vaccine programme would be in combatting a new surge in infections.
“I can see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step four of the opening on 21 June,” he said.
“But we’ve got to be so cautious because there’s no question the ONS (Office for National Statistics) data of infection rates is showing an increase.
“We always knew that was going to happen. Don’t forget we always said the unlocking steps that we’ve taken would lead to increases in infection.
“What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us – particularly the elderly and vulnerable – against a new surge.
“There, I’m afraid, the data is just still ambiguous and so every day we’re having long sessions where we’re interrogating all the data, we’re looking at all the various models.
“And the best the scientists can say at the moment, in their guidance to us, is that we just need to give it a little bit longer.”
Mr Johnson acknowledged the wait for a clear answer would be “frustrating” for people ahead of stage four of his roadmap, which is set to see nightclubs reopen and larger events allowed once more.
Meanwhile, with the government’s first review of its traffic light system for foreign travel expected this week, Mr Johnson said he would have “no hesitation” in moving countries around the red, amber and green lists.
However, asked if more countries could be added to the quarantine-free green list in order to open up more destinations for Britons hoping to book a summer holiday abroad, the prime minister told people to “wait and see”.
“We’re going to try and allow people to travel, as I know that many people want to, but we’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary,” he said.
“I want you to know we will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list to the red list, if we have to do so.
“The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout, to protect the people of this country.”