With more lockdown restrictions eased in England this week, Boris Johnson has warned that there will be an “inevitable” rise in COVID infections and deaths.
On Monday, pubs and restaurants opened their doors for the first time in months, welcoming customers under COVID-secure conditions that saw many brave the cold weather to eat and drink outside.
However, the prime minister urged people to continue to “exercise restraint” as beer gardens were packed and shoppers flocked to high streets after the latest lifting of the government’s coronavirus restrictions.
Johnson said that although vaccines had helped, lockdown restrictions had done “the bulk of the work” in reducing COVID infections.
Watch: Easing lockdown restrictions will inevitably lead to more deaths – PM
He spoke as the government announced it had met its target of offering the vaccine to all those in the highest-risk groups.
Johnson said: “It’s great that we have managed to achieve the target of getting everyone in the one to nine (priority) groups vaccinated by the deadline, by the timetable – a little bit ahead actually, 32 million people now have got their first dose, which is terrific.
“We are going now to the 45-49 group, they are being asked to come forward.”
But he added: “Of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.
“So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths.
“People have just got to understand that.”
Despite his warnings, the prime minister said there were no plans at present to change the road map out of lockdown.
The next “waymarks” on England’s plan to ease restrictions are due on 17 May and 21 June.
Johnson added: “It is very, very important that, if we are to get there in the way that we all want, people continue to be cautious and they continue to exercise restraint and just do the basic things to stop the spread of the virus – washing your hands, giving people plenty of space, doing things in fresh air.”
Figures released on Tuesday showed that the number of registered deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales has fallen to the lowest level in six months.
There were 400 deaths registered in the week ending 2 April where COVID was mentioned on the death certificate – the lowest since 2 October, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Watch: Shoppers and drinkers take advantage of new freedoms as lockdown eases