Underlining the recent huge strides made in developing a vaccine in recent weeks, the UK prime minister highlighted the April 4 festival as a date to get the jab to the vulnerable so long as there’s a “favourable wind”.
But his upbeat tone came as the UK’s top epidemiologist warned the public not to “go wild” over Christmas.
It came as the Oxford-AstraZeneca team said its jab had proved 70% effective, and follows positive results from Pfizer and Moderna.
None of the jabs have yet been approved for use and getting people vaccinated will be a major undertaking.
Johnson, who is self-isolating, made the comments via video-link at a Downing Street press conference with chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty and Oxford Vaccine Group director professor Andrew Pollard.
He said: “If we can roll it out at a good lick ... roll both vaccines out, or all three vaccines, potentially at a good lick ... with a favourable wind ... this is entirely hypothetical ... we should be able to inoculate the vast majority of people who need the most protection by Easter.
“That would make a very substantial change to where we are at the moment.”
Earlier in the House of Commons, Johnson referred to making sure the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, adding: “Terminus, that end date, looks like being Easter. We may be able to do better and make considerable improvements before Easter, but we should aim for Easter.”
Meanwhile, a plan to allow families to be reunited for Christmas is being thrashed out with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Johnson was unable to confirm details on Monday.
Later in the press conference, Whitty warned people not to go “wild” when restrictions are loosened over the festive period.
Whitty said: “If people do all those things very seriously we will have much less impact from Christmas whilst people are still being able to enjoy it, than if people choose to actually take a very much less public-spirited approach to it and go wild over that period.
“And so I think what we really need to do is we need to say, look if everyone is serious before, during and after then we can minimise the amount of impact it’ll have.”
The prime minister struck a cautious tone as he told the nation that “we’re not out of the woods yet” and that the UK faced a “hard” start to 2021, but that he expected “things will look and feel very different” after Easter.
Johnson said: “We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill but they are not here yet.
“Even if all three vaccines are approved, even if the production timetables are met – and vaccines notoriously fall behind in their production timetables – it will be months before we can be sure we have inoculated everyone that needs a vaccine.”
He warned that it is “not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties”, saying: “Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”
Johnson said that the months ahead “will be hard, they will be cold, they include January and February when the NHS is under its greatest pressure”.
That meant the need for new tiers from Wednesday December 2, replacing England’s lockdown, with more areas facing tougher restrictions than under the previous regional regime.
Under the new tier system:
– People will be able to leave their home for any purpose, and socialise with others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the rule of six. But only in Tier 1 will people be able to meet indoors with those not in their household or bubble.
– Collective worship and weddings will resume, though with a cap of 15 guests and receptions will be banned in Tier 3. Thirty people will be allowed to attend funerals, but only 15 will be able to attend a wake.
– Pubs and restaurants in Tier 3 will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery services, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close. In Tier 2, hospitality must close unless it is operating as a restaurant and in Tier 1 it will be table service only.
– In areas where hospitality venues are allowed to stay open, the 10pm curfew will be replaced with a last orders call at 10pm – but venues must close at 11pm.
– Retail and personal care – such as hairdressers and beauty salons – can reopen in all tiers, and indoor entertainment venues – such as cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys and casinos – will be allowed to stay open in Tiers 1 and 2, but not Tier 3.
– Gyms and swimming pools can reopen everywhere, though restrictions vary across the tiers for classes and organised adult sport. Spectator sport – and theatre – will be permitted in Tiers 1 and 2, though only drive-in events will be allowed in Tier 3.
Details of which areas will be in which tiers will be set out on Thursday.
The latest figures showed a further 206 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday and there had been 15,450 more lab-confirmed cases.
As well as the progress on vaccines, Johnson pointed to the expansion of rapid mass testing as a way of returning to something approaching normality.
This could include allowing people who test negative greater freedoms and the prospect of a daily tests replacing precautionary self-isolation for people who come into contact with a coronavirus case.