Vaccine passports are ‘bad idea’ says Tory MP Mark Harper
The government aims to have offered 45 million adults the vaccine by July 31, and Boris Johnson will deliver his roadmap back to normality on Monday. But MPs and campaigners insisted he should not be “over cautious” with the lifting of restrictions amid fears that many of the rules could still be in place over summer. Downing Street sources have admitted that the easing of lockdown will not be linked solely to the rollout of the vaccine, but there are fears that the more hardline of the scientific advisors will push to maintain many restrictions until all adults have had the chance to have the jab.
MPs including the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady and former cabinet minister Esther McVey have told the Prime Minister that the public mood is changing over lockdown and that he cannot delay too much.
The concerns follow a letter from 63 members of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, last which demanded all restrictions are lifted by the end of April when all the vulnerable groups have been offered the jab.
There were 445 deaths and 10,406 new cases reported yesterday (sat), a drop of 28.2 per cent and 19.2 per cent in seven days.
But Mr Johnson has made it clear in comments ahead of his speech that he intends to take a cautious approach.
He said: “Hitting 15 million vaccinations [last weekend] was a significant milestone – but there will be no let up, and I want to see the rollout go further and faster in the coming weeks. We will now aim to offer a jab to every adult by the end of July, helping us protect the most vulnerable sooner, and take further steps to ease some of the restrictions in place.
Boris Johnson aims to vaccinate all UK adults by July 31
The new target shows that the government is confident the NHS can offer a first dose of the vaccine to all adults by the end of July
“But there should be no doubt – the route out of lockdown will be cautious and phased, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us.”
A Downing Street source also admitted that it would be wrong to link the easing of restrictions solely to the rollout of the vaccine.
The source said: “We have to see how effective the vaccines are and what effect they have on transmission. We don’t have enough data yet.
“It is more nuanced than just the rollout of the vaccine and we have to take other issues into account.”
The source added: “We could get to a point where legal restrictions are lifted but we need to offer guidance on things like mask warning or washing of hands and so forth.”
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Boris Johnson will deliver his roadmap back to normality on Monday
Following a private briefing of MPs on Friday, the government has now revealed that it feels confident that initial targets on the vaccine can now be brought forward.
It is believed that the arrival of a third vaccine, Novavax, on top of the ones being used supplied by Pfizer and AstraZeneca will mean 6 million can be done a week.
The new target shows that the government is confident the NHS can offer a first dose of the vaccine to all adults by the end of July instead of by September.
It also means that the offer of a first dose to all adults over 50 can be accelerated to April 15.
Last week, the NHS moved to the next phase of the biggest vaccination programme in its history, with people aged 65 and over and an expanded group of at-risk people now receiving the life-saving jab.
At the same time, anyone over 70 who has yet to receive their jab can contact their GP, book a slot online, or call 119.
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Boris Johnson speaks with health worker Wendy Warren as he visits a vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in Cwmbran
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said there were “early signs” that the vaccine rollout is contributing to the fall in coronavirus hospitalisations.
“Across England overall nearly a third of adults have now had their first jab, and early signs suggest this is contributing to the welcome fall in coronavirus hospitalisation that we’re now seeing”, he said.
Writing for the Sunday Express, Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee which represents all Conservative MPs, warned that a slow cautious approach would be particularly harmful to Generation Lockdown, Britain’s young adults, teenagers and children.
He called on the Prime Minister to give them hope that restrictions will end sooner rather than later.
He said: “Those who advocate the slowest release from lockdown claim that they are acting cautiously. But caution to protect some people may come at the expense of recklessness with the lives and prospects of others. If we are to halt the epidemic of mental illness and hopelessness that we have inflicted on the young, we need to act quickly to restore structure and hope to their lives.”
Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey also highlighted the problems for children and parents, with schools expecting to open on March 8.
Covid vaccinations live
She said: “I’m working with parents trying to get schools reopened as they see the strain and the serious negative impacts of lockdown on their children, and business owners who have gone for nearly a year without earning and are holding on to their business by their fingertips.
“They all need some hope from Boris, and need to know their lives and livelihoods can start up again sooner than later.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies warned that public sentiment is now changing rapidly.
He said: “Public sentiment on the lockdown is changing rapidly. People believe the vaccine has changed everything and they certainly can’t see why restrictions need to be in place when those likely to suffer ill health and death from Covid have been vaccinated.
“People do not understand why the number of cases is in any way relevant if people have been protected from ill health and death by the vaccine so the moving of the goalposts to say that the level of infections has to be below a certain level before restrictions can be eased makes no sense to anyone and is seen as just another excuse to keep them.
“Nobody in government, SAGE or PHE are offering to sacrifice their jobs or salary to pursue this overly cautious strategy, they are just expecting millions of others to do that. Perhaps those making these decisions should have to forfeit at least 20 per cent of their salary whilst ever restrictions are in place – I suspect that would concentrate their minds and we would get them lifted much quicker.”
He added: “I fear the government no longer feel that freedoms are something we have by right that they have taken away from us, but are things in their gift that they are kindly handing to us bit by bit. This authoritarian approach has to end and end very soon or public opinion will turn very ugly very quickly now the vaccines have been rolled out so quickly.”
New Forest West Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne, a leading lockdown-sceptic, hopes legal restrictions will be gone by the middle of next month.
He said: “The enforceable law should be removed the moment hospital admissions are at an acceptable level and I would be expecting that to be by mid-March at the latest in my view.”
Sir Desmond argues that by “prolonging the lockdown” the country is “maximising the chances” of a new and more potent variant emerging, and suggested that public opposition to restrictions could intensify.
He said: “This intrusion into the most intimate aspects of our lives is an outrage in my view and I despair. But as hospital admissions plummet [are] people really going to really going to put up a continuation of this?”
Even MPs who have been government loyalists have raised concerns.
Former minister Sir John Hayes said: “We need to look at the knock on effects to people’s health of lockdown. There is already concerning evidence over delays to cancer treatment and other health problems where early intervention can literally save somebody’s life.”
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Peterborough Conservative MP Paul Bristow hopes for a return of freedoms when the top nine priority groups have been vaccinated.
He said: “As the prime minister said, if you remove 99 percent of the chances of death as a result of this then I think it points towards us being able to open up much more ambitiously… I sincerely hope that we’ll be able to spend overnight visits with our friends and our family and begin to see hospitality begin to open and all the other things that make life worth living from May onwards.”
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that pubs and restaurants could remain closed until the summer with a recent Countryside Alliance survey published by the Sunday Express showing that a delay that long could put six out of 10 rural pubs out of business.
The UnlockInn campaign to Save the Great British Pub launched by the Countryside Alliance has already received cross party support from MPs and support from 10,000 people and hundreds of landlords.
Campaign supporter Andrew Rosindell, the MP for Romford, said: “Many people want to secure the pub industry’s survival and attempts from some to belittle valid concerns- with thinly veiled sneers, demonstrates disconnect from what matters to so many communities across the country.”
Phil Doyle, publican of the Three Tuns near Hadrian’s Wall , added “Jobs and livelihoods are at stake here and during these bleaker times it is comforting to know that so many people are showing support for pubs like mine.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “We need clarity on when we are going to be able to open and how we are going to be commercially viable. We need to be trusted to do what we do best as part of the solution and that’s what we want to be.”
Meanwhile, the Believe in Vaccines campaign group said that more needs to be done to open up care homes despite the government allowing one visitor per resident.
The organisation Tweeted: “The Government must trust the science, believe in vaccines and allow care home visits.”