Anti-lockdown Tories have piled further pressure on Boris Johnson to lift restrictions, telling him experts say the numbers don’t justify keeping Britain closed until July.
The Prime Minister has vowed to use ‘data not dates’ when deciding how and when to end the measures in place to control the spread of coronavirus, but is facing a growing backlash from business chiefs and MPs.
The vaccine rollout has helped slash the number of deaths and infections, but the PM is being regularly reminded of the social cost of lockdown, amid fears firms unable to open under current restrictions will soon collapse.
Mark Woolhouse, an Edinburgh University expert in infectious disease, told MPs yesterday that ‘if you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking’.
Steve Baker, a member of the 70-strong anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, used the professor’s comments to pile further pressure on the Prime Minister to accelerate his plans.
He said: ‘Boris Johnson today rightly confirmed he will focus on ‘data, not dates’ for easing restrictions as our recent letter suggested. As Professor Woolhouse, a senior government scientific adviser, says, the data are looking so good that Britain may open earlier.’
The Mail revealed yesterday that – under a blueprint discussed with industry chiefs – the hospitality, holiday and leisure sectors might not return to normal until July.
The Prime Minister appeared to confirm a cautious timetable yesterday, saying he would take a ‘prudent’ approach and suggesting that pubs and restaurants would be among the last places to reopen.
He insisted his plan, due to be published on Monday, would be guided by ‘data not dates’. Infection rates are halving every two weeks with cases set to fall to 1,000 a day by the second week of April.
The figures come from an Imperial College London surveillance study – the largest in the country.
Business chiefs and MPs demanded an accelerated time frame out of lockdown from Boris Johnson in a bid to save firms
In other developments:
- The Imperial College study found that one in 196 people were infected with Covid in the first half of February while the R rate fell to 0.7;
- 738 deaths were reported yesterday, down from 1,001 last Wednesday. Daily cases fell below 13,000;
- An expert said no outbreaks had been linked to crowded beaches and it was unlikely the virus would surge when schools go back;
- A survey showed one in four firms would lay off staff unless furlough was extended;
- MPs warned that many nightclubs and music venues would not survive without government help;
- The UK will be the first country to deliberately infect volunteers with coronavirus to find better vaccines and treatments;
- Boris Johnson was said to be planning a testing blitz with kits sent to millions of homes and businesses;
- Record numbers have applied to study nursing after being inspired by the NHS.
Piling the pressure on the Prime Minister, Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, said: ‘The presumption should be that people are given back control over their own lives and we move from a world of arbitrary regulation to one where we are able to take responsibility for ourselves and each other.’
William Lees-Jones, owner of pub group JW Lees, which has 1,250 staff, said: ‘Ministers just don’t understand that this is an industry that is on its knees. Even after the end of March there will be a huge number of businesses that fail.
‘We’ve invested in the pubs to keep them safe, the vaccine will make a massive difference, and if pubs are not open then people will meet up illegally.’
Clive Watson, of City Pub Group, said: ‘While we fully support the Government’s efforts to get the virus under control, we must get to a stage, once the over-50s have been vaccinated, where we start to lift restrictions so people can once again meet for a drink or a meal with friends.’
Experts yesterday called on ministers to decide what an ‘acceptable’ number of infections would be so that Britain could move on from the pandemic.
Professor Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, said they were ‘crying out’ for clarity.
And Sir John Bell, who advises the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said people wanted their normal lives back and would not accept certain coronavirus restrictions after everyone has been vaccinated.
Mr Johnson will be presented with the latest data as soon as this evening and will chair a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers over the weekend to finalise the plans for Monday’s launch of the roadmap out of the national lockdown.
The Mail revealed that a blueprint discussed by officials and industry leaders would see rules eased every four weeks after a ‘limited’ loosening at Easter.
Hospitality would have to wait until early May for the green light to resume restricted trading, with the rule of six applying right through June and potentially into July. On a visit to South Wales yesterday, Mr Johnson said his plan would ‘be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way as to be irreversible’.
He added: ‘There is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.’