UK

Tory Backbenchers Renew Pressure on Johnson to Lift COVID-19 Lockdown Early

With the most at-risk third of the population already vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus and the economy suffering under the lockdown, the government’s insistence on a five-week gap between each relaxation of restrictions is coming under increased scrutiny.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure from backbench Tory MPs to accelerate his roadmap out of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of up to 70 backbenchers, said Johnson should make good on his “data, not dates” pledge and bring forward the staged lifting of restrictions if infections and deaths continue to plummet.

“With the speed that we’re seeing deaths, hospitalisations and infections drop, I think when we get to the end of April it’s going to look a bit odd that the government’s roadmap still has another two months nearly to run,” Harper told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Monday. 

“I think if it believes in data not dates, as the data improves the government should bring forward the roadmap rather than be tied to the dates it’s already set out,” he added.

With the most-vulnerable third of the population already immunised with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, infections and deaths have dropped to less than a tenth of their peak in early January. But the government insists it will stick to its plan of five-week gaps between each relaxation of measures with assessments of their effect — and possible delays for the next step.

“At the moment it is pretty clear we are getting on top of the virus”, Former Wales and Brexit secretary David Jones told the MailOnline.

“The vaccination programme is remarkably good,” Jones said. “I am not a scientist but I would have thought that the government must star to think about an accelerated timetable of the restrictions that we have got at the moment.”

The British economy has shrunk by almost 10 per cent during the lockdown and unemployment has risen to just over five per cent, despite Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme to protect jobs. Pubs and restaurants have been especially hard-hit.

Johnson addressed the issue at his televised Downing Street press conference on Monday evening. Responding to a question from the ITV political editor Robert Peston, the PM said: “We’ve just got to remain prudent.”

“The whole point about this roadmap is that it’s intended to be cautious but irreversible,” Johnson said. “I think people would really rather trade some urgency and some haste in favour of security and certainty about those dates.”

A man passes a poster showing a couple wearing protective face masks embracing in Shoreditch area of east London, following the introduction of measures to bring England out of the coronavirus lockdown, Thursday June 4, 2020

“We’ve seen, alas, in other European countries that the curve is going up again,” he warned. “It’s not too long after that that we see an increase in this country as well.”

The European Union has however only vaccinated 6 per cent cent of its population so far, a small fraction of that achieved by the UK since early December.

The UK has seen a total of over 4.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases since January 2020, with 124,500 deaths.

 

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