UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday that a vaccine will not deliver the "knockout blow" to coronavirus after criticism came from his the Conservative Party benches that he should not use the prospect of inoculation to maintain lockdown measures beyond the established deadline.
Speaking at a PMQs session in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson welcomed the news of the vaccine being developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer achieving 90% effectiveness in early trials.
Despite claims that the vaccine ould start being rolled out by Christmas, the prime minister warned the public not to expect an early loosening of ongoing restrictions, which are set to end on 2 December.
He said the ‘best way to get this country back on its feet’ was to ‘continue on the path that we are, driving the virus down’.
Johnson said that science had given the country "two big boxing gloves" in the form of the new vaccine and mass testing but added that neither of them "is capable of delivering a knockout blow on its own".
"That’s why this country needs to continue to work hard to keep discipline and to observe the measures we’ve put in".
— Anshul (@Anshul__K) November 11, 2020
The comments follow suggestions that parts of England could remain under heavy restrictions, which prevents household visits and closes all 'non-essential' businesses, after the end of the 4-week lockdown.
England is posted to return to the ‘tiered’ system next month, with restrictions varying by region. depending on outbreak severity. Ministers are said to be considering streamlining the policy in order to encompass entire regions as opposed to individual "hotspot" cities. The prospect of added a fourth Tier, which would essentially act as a full lockdown, is also being reviewed.
While the tier system saw cities with large outbreaks such as Manchester be placed into Tier 3 - the most stringent level. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that regions will not necessarily return to the same Tier they were in last month when they emerge from the current lockdown.
Opponents of the lockdown have slammed the ever-changing rules as confusing and undermining trust in the government’s coronavirus strategy. Boris Johnson is increasingly under pressure from Tory backbenchers who claim that the restrictions are leading to economic harm, which risks more deaths from poverty and other health afflictions ignored in order to direct resources towards combating the pandemic.
Around 50 Conservative MPs have signed up to a parliamentary group, led by former chief whip Mark Harper, urging the government not to use the prospect of a vaccine being available early next year to obstruct the pledge to end lockdown on the established date.
While speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Harper said that the new Covid Recovery Group would prioritise the harm that restrictive measures are doing to the economy and the "non-covid" health impacts of a shutdown.
"It was really positive news this week about a vaccine, but it is clear that it’s going to take a number of months – assuming it all goes well – before that is successfully rolled out across the population", he said.
"So there are some really big decisions to take, in the months, not just for the government but for Parliament".
The former Tory chief whip said that "lockdowns come with great costs", and complained that the government did not give an estimate of the economic impact prior to last weeks vote on the lockdown, which saw 34 Tories rebel against the frontbench.
"The important thing is the PM has been very clear, the current restrictions end on December 2, he wants to return back to the tiered system when restrictions were linked to the prevalence of the virus", Mr Harper said.
— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) November 11, 2020
Currently, Tier 1 restrictions are meant for areas at ‘medium risk’ while Tier 2 is considered for ‘high’ and Tier 3 ‘very high’ risk.
Unlike a full lockdown, Tier 3 rules allow restaurants to open until 10pm and pubs and bars must be shut unless they also operate as a restaurant.