CLAIM: “Scientists are absolutely clear that we have severed the link between [Covid] infection and serious disease and death” – Boris Johnson at PMQs 7 July 2021

DOORSTEP ANSWER: The Conservative government’s own chief medical officer warns the link between infections and hospitalisations has only been weakened, not severed. With the infection rate now at a record level, this is perhaps not the time to throw away those masks.

BACKGROUND: At PMQs on 7 July, Sir Keir Starmer referred to a statement by the new Health Secretary for England, Sajid Javid, that the daily infection rate for Covid-19 could rise to 100,000 in August, following the relaxation of current restrictions. This would be a new record for the UK. The previous peak was in early January when a daily rate of 70,000 cases were being registered. Starmer asked the PM what would be the hospitalisation numbers, deaths and impact for long-covid cases in that eventuality?

READ MORE: PMQs: Johnson severs the link between Covid questions and truthful answers

The PM failed to answer the question and instead stated categorically that “scientists are absolutely clear that we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death”. He claimed this was the result of the Tory government’s success in vaccinating the general population. Is Boris Johnson correct in making this claim?


The Prime Minister’s statement is flatly contradicted by the chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance. He has stated categorically concerning the impact of vaccination on the infection rate that "it's a weakened link, not a completely broken link". As a result, Sir Patrick has warned that hospitalisations inevitably will rise in the coming months. Even if a much smaller percentage of infections result in severe illness, a high infection rate could still put the NHS under considerable pressure.

The National:

The peculiar fact is that Sir Patrick made this unequivocal statement at the same press briefing (on Monday 5 July) as the PM announced the prospective end to all anti-Covid lockdown restrictions in England by July 19. The chief medical officer warned: “The deaths are increasing. They’re at low levels, but there’s an increase in deaths just as there’s been an increase in hospitalisation, and we would expect that to continue also, as the number of cases increases.” 

Professor Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser, backed-up this analysis. Speaking on Sky News, Sir Mark said: "The reason it's become possible for ministers to make this decision [to end the lockdown rules] is because the vaccine programme has become so very successful and has weakened, but certainly not broken, the link between infection and the most serious consequences of disease."

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist from Imperial College London who sits on the Conservative government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, warns that daily coronavirus numbers resulting from the Delta strain reach as high as 200,000. In which case, the numbers of serious infections could increase considerably.

The PM might quibble that link between infections and hospitalisation and deaths has indeed been “severed” in a mechanical way by mass vaccination, and that even with the infection rate rising it was worth the risk to remove lockdown restrictions. Indeed, he said so at the press briefing with the chief medical officer:

“The question people have to ask themselves is, if we don’t go ahead now, when we’ve done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link between infection and death, when the summer firebreak is coming up over the school holidays, when would we?”

However, it is a reasonable criticism that when questioned at PMQs, Johnson dropped the chief medical officer’s caveats and over-emphasised the degree of severance between the covid infection rate and subsequent hospitalisations. The PM has a track record of such exaggerations. He reassured the DUP conference there would be no trade border down the Irish Sea - except there now is.


The UK Government is hoping that a combination of warm weather and school holidays will help to keep infection numbers down. However, some scientists are warning that the partial nature of the vaccination rate carries with it a new threat.

The National:

As of July 7, a third of adults in the UK were not yet fully vaccinated and even those with two jabs are still able to catch the evolving virus. Worse, medical experts are concerned about that these partial conditions could lead to the creation of a new more resistant variant. Steven Paterson, professor of genetics at Liverpool University, says: "The concern to me is that you now have a lot of single-vaccinated people with some but incomplete immunity. Evolving to this partial immunity is easier than the virus having to evolve to the high levels of immunity from complete vaccination; indeed, this may give a stepping stone to that."


There are arguments for and against removing the remaining lockdown rules.  However, it is imperative that the full facts are available in weighing these risks.  Unfortunately, the PM is culpable of trying to obscure the medical advice. This could prove a dangerous move.

FACT CHECK RATING: More misinformation from the PM. It is a toss-up whether he is genuinely confused or being his usual over-optimistic self. Neither is a good basis for taking high-risk decisions.