Politics

Tory lockdown rebels set Boris Johnson March 8 deadline for easing Covid restrictions

UK lockdown: Police officer calls on public to ‘do their bit’

Senior backbencher Mark Harper, chairman and co-founder of the self-styled Covid Recovery Group warned restrictions should not remain in place for “a second longer” once the vaccine has protected priority groups. The former Tory chief whip spoke out as health chiefs vowed to vaccinate around 15 million people by mid-February covering care home residents, the over-70s, clinically extremely vulnerable people and frontline health and care staff.

Like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm

Mark Harper

Those groups accounted for 88 percent of fatalities when the first wave of the pandemic swept across the country and the Government is in a race against time to protect them with a first dose of vaccine.

Mr Harper said there should be no reason to keep England under national lockdown in place once people in these groups had received their jab and it has been given time to become effective.

He said achieving the mid-February goal must remain the “central, overriding focus” for ministers with more than 2.3 million people already receiving a vaccination.

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Mr Harper said: “Like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm.

“So for today’s progress to really mean something to the millions of people across the country who are doing the right thing and obeying the law, the Government must urgently set out exactly how today’s progress begins to translate into a return to normal life for us all and show a clear exit strategy – a route back to freedom.”

With a lag of three weeks between the vaccine being administered and offering its full protection, Mr Harper said “if we hit the crucial February 15 deadline, the four top-risk groups will have immunity by March 8”.

He said: “At that point – once all the key groups have become immune to Covid – what possible reason could there be for keeping severe restrictions in place a second longer?

“For people to have hope, they need to know exactly how and when the Government will lift restrictions and when our freedoms, economy and health prospects will be fully restored.”

He called for clarity on what other tests need to be met – for example death rates, hospital admissions or capacity – to lift the lockdown.

And he warned: “The goalposts must not keep shifting.

“These cycles of lockdowns and restrictions have an impact on jobs, health and life chances that will be visible for years to come.

“It’s vital we act as swiftly as we possibly can to vaccinate those most at risk, so that we reduce harm caused by Covid, but then also to lift restrictions when it is safe to do so.”

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The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals in England has risen to a record high of more than 32,000, new figures show, as the Government pleaded with people to follow lockdown rules.

Matt Hancock said the NHS is under “very significant pressure” and told the public to reduce all social contact that is “not absolutely strictly necessary” in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

The Health Secretary’s warning came as NHS England data showed there were 32,070 Covid-19 patients in English hospitals as of 8am today

The figure is up 20 percent compared to last week and up 81 percent since Christmas Day.

A further 529 people died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 81,960 – though separate figures show there have now been 97,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

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