The PM says he is “working flat out” to allow for an easing of restrictions, but there may be “bumpy months ahead”.
The coronavirus pandemic “will be bumpy through to Christmas” and potentially beyond that, Boris Johnson has warned, as he said it is “too early to say” whether local lockdowns are working.
The prime minister acknowledged there will be some members of the public who are “furious at me” and “furious at the government” amid the continuing COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’ve got to tell you in all candour it’s going to continue to be bumpy through to Christmas, it may even be bumpy beyond,” he said in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“But this is the only way to do it.”
Mr Johnson said the government was “working flat out” to allow for an easing of coronavirus restrictions in time for the festive period, but he again cautioned: “Be in no doubt that it is still very possible that there are bumpy, bumpy months ahead.
“This could be a very tough winter for all of us – we’ve got to face that fact.”
He also rejected suggestions he was still feeling the effects of coronavirus – which left him in intensive care back in April – or suffering from “long” COVID, saying: “This is total tittle tattle, it is drivel. It is not tittle tattle, it is balderdash and nonsense.
“I can tell you I’m fitter than several butchers’ dogs.”
In a bid to offer some optimism, the PM said he believed “very strongly” that the “scientific equation” surrounding the virus will change in the coming weeks and months and “we will start to see progress, whether it is on vaccines or on testing, that will enable us to take a different approach”.
He said it is a “possibility” that there will be “significant progress” on a vaccine this year, but he does not “want to get people’s hopes up on the vaccine unnecessarily”.
Mr Johnson expressed hope of a “radically different” situation by the spring, saying: “We will find all sorts of ways, I’m absolutely sure, particularly through mass testing programmes, of changing the way that we tackle this virus.”
On local lockdowns, Mr Johnson was asked specifically about Oldham, which has seen its infection rate double despite being under tighter restrictions for the past six weeks.
“The advice that we’re getting is that in these areas where we’ve got stringent local lockdowns, we’ve got to wait and see if the R number starts to come down,” he said.
His interview came after government figures showed there were a further 12,872 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK as of 9am on Saturday.
A technical glitch may mean that the actual daily figure is somewhat smaller, something Mr Johnson described as a “failure in the counting system” that has now been “rectified”.
The PM also admitted that the NHS test and trace service for coronavirus cases is “not perfect” and that he is “frustrated” with it.
But he insisted he does not blame NHS test and trace and takes “full responsibility for the service”.
Mr Johnson said he understood people’s “frustration” at differing rules and restrictions for different parts of the country and that he takes “full responsibility for everything that’s happened since the pandemic began”.
He said one of the alternatives he had heard suggested was to “let it rip”, something Mr Johnson said he “just can’t accept”.
“And as prime minister I couldn’t take a course that could expose us to tens of thousands more deaths in very short order,” he said.
Responding to criticism from his own backbenchers about the wide-ranging nature of the restrictions and their economic impact, the PM said: “I’m a freedom-loving Tory. I don’t want to have to impose measures like this, are you crazy?
“This is the last thing we want to do. But I also have to save life. And that’s our priority.”
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One aspect of the latest COVID-19 restrictions that has come in for criticism is the 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants.
Asked about this in his Marr interview, the PM defended the rule and blamed people who chose to “hobnob” outside establishments after hours for the scenes of crowds in city centres around closing time.
“Obviously it makes no sense if, having followed the guidance for all the time in the pub they then pour out into the street and hobnob in such a way as to spread the virus,” Mr Johnson said.
The PM said it had been “put to us” that bringing in a 10pm curfew could help reduce the transmission of the virus, but he did not elaborate on who had suggested it to ministers.
Mr Johnson was also questioned about the government’s Eat Out To Help Out Scheme – and whether it had unwittingly spread coronavirus further.
He did not dismiss the possibility, saying: “It was very important to keep those jobs going.
“Now, if it, insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus, then obviously we need to counteract that and we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we’re proposing.”