Boris warns of Covid 'tough times' ahead but insists 'end' in sight

Boris Johnson warns of ‘tough times’ ahead in Covid battle but insists ‘the end of the journey’ is in sight in his New Year message – and says Brexit means UK can be ‘better’ than the EU

  • In his New Year message the Prime Minister looked ahead to next 12 months 
  • Insisted Brits would  ‘eventually do everyday things that seem lost in the past’ 
  • Also voiced hope that Brexit would allow the UK to do things ‘better’ than the EU
  • Britain quits the block this evening after four-and-a-half bitter years 

Boris Johnson warned of ‘tough times’ ahead  in the fight against Covid today – but insisted ‘the end of the journey’ was in sight as he looked forward to 2021.

In his New Year message the Prime Minister insisted that the next 12 months would see Britons ‘eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past’ as vaccines help life return to normal.

He also voiced his hope that Brexit would allow the UK to do things ‘better’ than the EU, after it leaves at 11pm tonight.

Britain quits the block this evening after four-and-a-half bitter years of politics and division since the EU referendum.

The Prime Minister reflected on the past 12 months during which ‘we lost too many loved ones before their time’ because of the pandemic.

But he said a ‘spirit of togetherness’ was rediscovered in 2020, in which people ‘pulled the stops out to keep the country moving in the biggest crisis we have faced for generations’.

His comments came as Britain today declared a record high of 55,892 coronavirus cases and almost 1,000 more deaths, leading to fears of Covid restrictions until next summer.

Government scientists warned even a March-style national lockdown with schools mainly closed might not be enough to hold the coronavirus R rate below one.  

In his New Year message the Prime Minister insisted that the next 12 months would see Britons ‘eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past’ as vaccines help life return to normal.

Voicing his hope of a ‘an open, generous, outward looking, internationalist and free trading global Britain’ in a message recorded in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘2021 is the year we can do it, and I believe 2021 is above all, the year when we will eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past.

‘Bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia, going to the pub, concerts, theatres, restaurants, or simply holding hands with our loved ones in the normal way.

‘We are still a way off from that, there are tough weeks and months ahead.

‘But we can see that illuminated sign that marks the end of the journey, and even more important, we can see with growing clarity how we are going to get there.’

Mr Johnson praised scientists who produced the world’s first effective treatment for coronavirus, as well as those who worked on the Oxford vaccine.

He said: ‘We know that we have a hard struggle still ahead of us for weeks and months, because we face a new variant of the disease that requires a new vigilance.

‘But as the sun rises tomorrow on 2021 we have the certainty of those vaccines.’

Referencing the end of the Brexit transition period, the Prime Minister said the UK would be ‘free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU’ in 2021.

He said the UK will ‘work with partners around the world, not just to tackle climate change but to create the millions of high-skilled jobs this country will need not just this year – 2021 – as we bounce back from Covid, but in the years to come.

‘This is an amazing moment for this country. We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.

‘And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working together to express our values around the world.’

Two thirds of England’s population – around 44million people – is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

A grim assessment from SAGE today warned that the new variant behind the spiralling coronavirus second wave appears so much more contagious that the blanket restrictions imposed in November would be ‘highly unlikely’ to contain the spread. 

Closing schools to all but the children of key workers and the vulnerable, as happened in the Spring, could bring the crucial reproduction rate down further but it is still ‘not known’ whether it would succeed in suppressing the outbreak.

The dire picture was revealed as Department of Health bosses posted the highest number of positive tests in a day since the disease first reached British soil in January. Officials also announced 964 deaths, following on from yesterday’s grim figure of 981, which was the deadliest day since April.

The SAGE lockdown warning came from minutes from a meeting of the top scientists on December 22, shortly after Boris Johnson announced the existence of the Covid mutation and tore up plans for Christmas ‘bubbles’. Other papers suggest ministers could reinstate the hard two-metre social distancing rule that was eased to one-metre plus to help keep businesses afloat, and ‘mandate’ more mask-wearing. 

The evidence will fuel concerns that the country is now doomed to brutal Tier curbs until at least the spring and potentially even into summer 2021, with even that timeline assuming that the vaccine roll-out goes to plan. 

And the programme, which must vaccinate two million people per day as soon as possible, is already facing hitches with retired health workers trying to volunteer to help with the roll-out getting put off by government red tape as scientists say it’s impossible to know when the vaccine programme will make it safe to end lockdown.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said he expects Britain to continue its relentless cycle of lockdowns into the middle of next year, saying on BBC Radio 4 this morning: ‘It is going to be a very, very difficult few months until we get, hopefully, relief as we move from spring into summer when many people will have been vaccinated and the warmer weather will be here.’

Speculation about widespread school closures is growing after ministers confirmed that children of all ages will be kept home in the hardest hit areas, despite concerns from politicians and experts that keeping them off school will do more damage in the long run – scientists say keeping schools open will make it near impossible to stop the virus in some places.

Boris Johnson’s new year message in full: 

Well folks we are coming to the end of 2020.

The year in which the Government was forced to tell people how to live their lives, how long to wash their hands, how many households could meet together.

And a year in which we lost too many loved ones before their time.

So I can imagine that there will be plenty of people who will be only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020.

But just before we do, I want to remind you that this was also the year when we rediscovered a spirit of togetherness, of community.

It was a year in which we banged saucepans to celebrate the courage and self-sacrifice of our NHS staff and care home workers

A year in which working people pulled the stops out to keep the country moving in the biggest crisis we have faced for generations – shopworkers, transport staff, pharmacists, emergency services, everyone, you name it.

We saw a renewed spirit of volunteering, as people delivered food to the elderly and vulnerable.

And time after time as it became necessary to fight new waves of the virus, we saw people unite in their determination, our determination, to protect the NHS and to save lives.

Putting their lives, your lives, on hold.

Buying precious time for medicine to provide the answers, and it has.

In 2020 we have seen British scientists not only produce the world’s first effective treatment of the disease, but just in the last few days a beacon of hope has been lit in the laboratories of Oxford.

A new room temperature vaccine that can be produced cheaply and at scale,

and that offers literally a new lease of life to people in this country and around the world.

And with every jab that goes into the arm of every elderly or vulnerable person, we are changing the odds, in favour of humanity and against Covid.

And we know that we have a hard struggle still ahead of us for weeks and months, because we face a new variant of the disease that requires a new vigilance.

But as the sun rises tomorrow on 2021 we have the certainty of those vaccines.

Pioneered in a UK that is also free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU.

Free to do trade deals around the world.

And free to turbocharge our ambition to be a science superpower.

From biosciences to artificial intelligence,

and with our world-leading battery and wind technology we will work with partners around the world,

not just to tackle climate change but to create the millions of high skilled jobs this country will need not just this year – 2021 – as we bounce back from Covid, but in the years to come.

This is an amazing moment for this country.

We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.

And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working together to express our values around the world.

Leading both the G7 and the COP 26 climate change summit in Glasgow,

And an open, generous, outward looking, internationalist and free trading global Britain, that campaigns for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world.

2021 is the year we can do it,

and I believe 2021 is above all, the year when we will eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past.

Bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia, going to the pub, concerts, theatres, restaurants, or simply holding hands with our loved ones in the normal way.

We are still a way off from that, there are tough weeks and months ahead.

But we can see that illuminated sign that marks the end of the journey, and even more important, we can see with growing clarity how we are going to get there.

And that is what gives me such confidence about 2021.

Happy New Year!

 

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