Boris Johnson believes UK is ‘irreversibly’ on path back to freedom thanks to jab rollout

French MEP slams 'laughing stock' EU over vaccine rollout

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Marking a year since the first lockdown yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted the country was on course to stick to his roadmap “step by step, jab by jab” with 28 million people now vaccinated. On a solemn Day of Reflection, he admitted his sorrow at how the early effort to contain Covid-19 had been like fighting “in the dark”. And he pledged that the nation will build a “permanent memorial” to victims of the pandemic.

Mr Johnson yesterday joined people across the country in observing a minute’s silence for the Britons who have died in the pandemic. Data showed the daily death toll rose by 112 yesterday to a UK total of 126,284.

At a Downing Street news conference, the PM attempted to calm fears that vaccine supply shortages and the threat of a third Covid wave in Europe could stall progress.

He said: “We will meet our targets, offering a first dose to everyone over-50 by the middle of next month, as well as those under 50 who are clinically vulnerable, and offering a first dose of the vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

“And cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab, this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms.” Reflecting on his announcement of the first national lockdown, Mr Johnson recalled it seemed “incredible” to urge the entire country to stay at home and avoid human contact.

Yet the nation stepped up to the call to protect the NHS and save lives “together”. 

He said: “For the entire British people it has been an epic of endurance and privation, of children’s birthday parties cancelled, of weddings postponed, family gatherings of all kinds deleted from the diary.

“And worst of all, in that time we’ve suffered so many losses.

“And for so many people our grief has been made more acute because we have not been able to see our loved ones in their final days – to hold their hands or even to mourn them together.”

He added: “At the right moment, we will come together as a country to build a fitting and a permanent memorial to the loved ones we have lost and to commemorate this whole period.”

Mr Johnson said the collective battle against coronavirus had been “like fighting in the dark against a callous and invisible enemy, until science helped us to turn the lights on and to gain the upper hand”.

And he hailed the “courage, discipline and patience” shown across the country over the last year.

Answering questions about lessons learned from the Government’s handling of the virus outbreak in its opening stages, the Prime Minister said: “These are very hard decisions and there are no good outcomes either way.

“All I can say is we took all the decisions with the interest of the British people foremost in our hearts and in an effort to protect the public and prevent death and suffering, though doubtless there will be a moment to properly review, to learn lessons for future pandemics of a kind which I’m sure there will be.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the number of Covid deaths was falling more rapidly than the decline in new cases of the virus.

But he said that, “we have always expected some upward pressure as people went back to school and some unlocking happened”.

Prof Whitty also warned that Covid-19 will remain in circulation “for the foreseeable future”.

He said: “We will have to deal with it in some form or another.”

And he admitted scientists had underestimated the scale of threat in the early days.

Prof Whitty said: “It wasn’t until people started getting into hospital and dying we had a really better fix on how fast things were moving.

“At an earlier stage we had much less of an understanding about how widespread the virus was in Europe, for exactly the same reason, actually, because of the lack of testing in Europe as well as in the UK.”

He was echoed by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who said early better testing would have made a “big difference”.

Later Mr Johnson addressed the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers at a private Zoom meeting. He reportedly joked, “it was greed my friends” that helped Britain get the jab first as he praised the role of big pharma in producing the vaccine.

Downing Street sources dismissed the suggestion, saying it was not a direct quote. They said he made the opposite case when talking about AstraZeneca.

“He explicitly said this isn’t about profit because this is a vaccine that was delivered at cost to the whole world,” they added.

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