Boris Johnson ‘optimistic’ ahead of his roadmap announcement
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It comes as an “optimistic” Boris Johnson confirmed that the government will not push for a zero covid strategy and suggested the coronavirus will be something we learn to live with like flu. But with frustration growing over the harsher restrictions being brought in on travel, the Prime Minister was last night facing a serious challenge to his authority from his own MPs who warned him that he cannot continue to “move the goalposts”. The group of Conservative MPs, led by former chief whip Mark Harper and former minister Steve Baker, want all schools opened by March 8 and restaurants, pubs, and cafes to be open for the Easter holidays.
The MPs said: “Once all nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April, there is no justification for any legislative restrictions to remain.”
They added: “The vaccine gives us immunity from Covid but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions.”
Speaking on a trip to the QuantuMDx diagnostics company’s base in Newcastle, the Prime Minister said Health Secretary Matt Hancock was right to say Covid-19 could become a “manageable disease” like seasonal flu.
“A nasty disease like this will roll through. A new disease like this will take time for humanity to adapt to, but we are,” he said.
“The miracles of science are already making a huge difference, not just through vaccinations but therapies as well. New therapies are being discovered the whole time which are enabling us to reduce mortality, improve our treatments of the disease.
“I do think that in due time it will become something that we simply live with. Some people will be more vulnerable than others – that’s inevitable.”
But Mr Johnson appeared to resist a rapid lifting of restrictions arguing that while coronavirus infection rates are falling, overall numbers remain very high.
“We have made huge progress with the rollout of the vaccines. That is great,” he said.
“But we have still got infections running very high throughout the country – levels which last year we would have thought were really very high indeed (and) still sadly a great many deaths in our hospitals.”
He added: “Something also that will be very important is the efficacy of the vaccines – are they working in the way that we hope that they are? – and making sure they are really helping, along with the lockdown, to drive down the incidence. That is the key thing.”
His comments come after the Government announced that 14.5 million vaccines had been injected by Friday.
It means that on the current trajectory the 15.2 million target of reaching the most vulnerable could be reached tomorrow.
The NHS figures show that a further 544,603 had their first coronavirus vaccine taking the total to 14,556,827 by Friday whil 4,775 received their second dose taking the number to 534,869.
There were a further 621 deaths and 13,308 cases were recorded today, down over 26 percent and 27 percent in a week.
Latest figures from Tuesday showed 1,741 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, down by over 25 percent in a week.
With leading scientists briefing Conservatives MPs that there should be a 98 percent reduction in the Covid-19 death rates by mid April after the successful rollout of the vaccine, MPs in the CRG have demanded that the government starts to lift restrictions.
Addressing the Prime Minister the MPs said: “When you said in January that together we can ‘reclaim our lives once and for all’, you created a spirit of hope and optimism. We recognise the devastating consequences of both Covid as well as lockdowns and restrictions, and so look forward to rebuilding our society and economy as we protect the vulnerable.”
And they noted that in the same month, Mr Hancock, the health secretary, had said “My aim is to keep these restrictions in place for not a moment longer than they are necessary.”
The letter noted: “The top four risk groups account for about 88 percent of deaths and about 55 percent of hospitalisations from Covid. These groups will be protected by vaccination from 8 March, so any restrictions left in place after that should be proportionate to the harm Covid is by then capable of causing.”
Their top demand is for schools in England to all reopen by March 8 as “a national priority”.
The letter demanded “pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can open for Easter” with proper precautions.
The MPs also have concerns about outside sport and swimming pools, gyms, personal care businesses, care home visits, hotels, events industry businesses, and allowing couples to get married.
The letter insisted that all restrictions after March 8 “must be proportionate” and they must all end by May.
It came as the Countryside Alliance this weekend launched a nationwide UnlockInn campaign for restrictions on pubs to be lifted with fears many are on the verge of going out of business.
One of the Conservative MPs to sign the CRG letter, Esther McVey said: “We are seeing a real change in the mood of our constituents.
“The letters we are getting now are much more about the need to lift lockdown and less about fears over covid.”
Meanwhile, NHS staff will begin vaccinating people aged 65 to 69 and those who are clinically vulnerable against Covid from Monday with over one million people already invited to book a jab.
Almost 1.2 million letters were due to land on doorsteps by Saturday asking people to log on to the national booking service at www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination with another 1.2 million due to arrive this week.
Further targeted areas will have additional testing made available to help monitor and suppress the spread of a COVID-19 variant.
Working in partnership with the local authorities, additional surge testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas within Middlesbrough within TS7, areas in Walsall and in specific areas in the RG26 postcode in Hampshire where the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.
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