Boris Johnson has said there are currently no clear signals that he needs to scrap or delay plans to lift all legal restrictions on social contact in England in a matter of weeks, but he admitted that data on how effective vaccines will be at preventing a third wave was ambiguous.
Despite calls from some scientists for the government to push back the planned final stage of unlocking on 21 June, the prime minister suggested he saw no reason yet to deviate from the roadmap.
He did, however, urge people to remain “so cautious” because the infection rate was rising again.
He said ministers had known that the number of cases would start to increase again after significant freedoms were restored on 17 May, allowing people to gather in groups of six or two households indoors and up to 30 outdoors.
Speaking during a visit to a school on Wednesday – his first public appearance since marrying Carrie Johnson over the weekend – Johnson said scientists needed “a little bit longer” to figure out just how much protection the vaccines were providing against a new surge.
“There, I’m afraid, the data is just still ambiguous,” he said. “So every day we’re having long sessions, interrogating all the data, looking at all the various models.
“And the best the scientists can say at the moment in their guidance to us is that we just need to give it a little bit longer.
“I’m sorry that’s frustrating for people. I know that people want a clear answer about the way ahead for 21 June, but at the moment we’ve just got to wait a little bit longer.”
Johnson said it was clear that getting both vaccine shots was “helpful in protecting you and your family from the virus”.
Pressed on whether travellers waiting to go on holiday or visit family and friends abroad will get a boost on Thursday when the first update of the green, amber and red lists is published, Johnson said people should wait and see.
Nervousness has grown in recent days about whether a third wave is already under way.
Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said over the weekend that he thought “current measures are not stopping cases rising rapidly in many parts of the country” and that “unless there is a miracle … opening up further in June is a huge risk”.
The rising number of cases “should cause a reassessment of the most recent relaxation”, he said.
The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, did not dispute that some measures could stay in place after 21 June in an interview with the BBC on Sunday, including mask wearing and guidance for people to work from home where possible.