Tories today demanded Boris Johnson lifts coronavirus restrictions altogether by the summer amid fury over the government’s ‘goalpost shifting’ on lockdown.
The PM is facing an angry backlash and claims he is being ‘beaten up by scientists’ after ministers and SAGE experts suggested all over-50s should get vaccines before any ‘significant’ easing.
There is alarm that the bar for allowing the economy to get back up and running is being lifted, with dire warnings about the threat of mutant coronavirus added to concerns about the strain on the NHS.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to indicate this morning that the government is looking at the top nine risk categories – around 32million people – as the trigger point for a widespread downgrading of measures. So far the PM has only said that he will unveil a route map out of lockdown on February 22, after the first four most vulnerable groups have been covered.
Mr Zahawi refused to give a date for when the nine categories in phase one of the rollout will be complete – although MailOnline estimates suggest it could be early April.
Meanwhile, SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward gave a similar message as he said there could be a ‘significant return to normality’ after all over-50s are vaccinated. ‘Once the most vulnerable people, particularly those over 50 and those with chronic illnesses, are vaccinated then yes I think we can see a significant return to normality,’ he said.
However, Prof Hayward said he still hoped the UK will be ‘more or less back to normal for the summer’.
Tory MPs warned it would be ‘madness’ if Mr Johnson merely started to open schools on March 8 – which he has identified as the earliest possible timeframe for any relaxation. Mark Harper, chair of the lockdown-sceptic CRG block, said once the top nine groups are vaccinated restrictions should be lifted altogether.
And former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith told MailOnline: ‘The trouble is they are now being beaten up by the scientists. The scientists are giving them all sorts of new reasons why you can’t unlock.
‘Of course for the scientists it doesn’t make any difference really because they get paid anyway.’
There are claims that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is again leading calls within Cabinet for lockdown to be eased as early as possible – in contrast to the more cautious tone adopted by Mr Johnson recently.
There was more proof that Britain has passed the peak of the second wave today as daily deaths and cases continued to fall and pressure on intensive care units finally started to ease.
Department of Health officials recorded another 915 Covid victims and 20,634 positive tests — down by more than a quarter week-on-week.
Separate Public Health England figures showed all but three local authorities saw coronavirus infections drop last week and cases in care homes fell by a third. The latest Test and Trace report today also claimed positive tests plunged by 41 per cent in the last fortnight, in another sign the crisis is firmly in retreat.
Meanwhile, NHS England statistics showed there were 5,283 patients in ICUs across the country on the last day of January, down slightly on the previous week when there were 5,446 beds in use. It’s the first time ICU capacity has eased since the highly-infectious Kent Covid variant started to spiral out of control in December.
All key metrics now indicate the darkest days of the winter crisis are behind us, with the number of Covid hospital patients in general beds dropping to its lowest level for a month and in every region. And in another glimmer of hope, the mammoth vaccine roll-out is continuing to pick up pace with almost 475,000 jabs dished out yesterday. And 500,000 vulnerable Britons have now had both doses.