Fears lockdown could be extended by MONTHS: Boris braces for Tory revolt on Covid roadmap

Boris Johnson gives update on when lockdown will be reviewed

Scientists will this month carry out a review into the coronavirus crisis in order to determine the way forward. The Prime Minister had promised to set out his strategy to reopen society once and for all in the week beginning February 22.

And now, the stage appears to have been set for a crunch vote on the masterplan on the same day.

In the provisional timetable for the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg has set aside time for a “general debate on Covid-19”.

The business item could easily make way for a debate and a vote on the roadmap.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also said this morning February 22 would be the day the plan would be presented to Parliament.

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The Prime Minister has been coming under increasing pressure to relax restrictions following news the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab reduces transmission by up to 67 percent, as well as offering immunity.

Some Tories are demanding schools open later this month, earlier than the March 8 date earmarked as the earliest date for reopening by the Prime Minister.

Backbenchers are concerned the “goal posts” for lifting lockdown keep being moved and that the roadmap could prolong Covid rules for several more months.

Senior Tory backbencher Mark Harper, who is chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, said today: “I think what people are worried about is you then keep hearing other things creeping into the argument about the rate of infection and other things keep being thrown into the debate which sounds like it’s changing the goal posts.

“I think we should keep focused on protecting the vulnerable, reducing deaths and hospitalisations and the pressure on the health service – and those are the two things I think that need to drive opening up.”

Former Treasury minister Mel Stride has said he wants the roadmap to present “a clear picture” with “benchmarks” attached to it so the Government could be held to the plan.

“What my colleagues and I will be looking for in that is clear markers of how we unlock the economy, perhaps benchmarked against the R-rate or hospital rates,” he said.

Any delay on exiting lockdown will infuriate Tory MPs, who could revolt and vote ain’t the Prime Minister’s plan if it is deemed unsatisfactory.

In December Mr Johnson suffered his biggest backbench rebellion to date on a vote over the three-tier system being introduced to replace England’s second lockdown.

Many Tories felt the tiers were unfair with 55 voting against the measures and a further 16 abstaining.

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Mr Zahawi this morning sought to calm concerns of an extended lockdown saying infection transmission studies among those who have already been vaccinated would help provide a “very clear road map” for reopening the economy.

“We’ve got two sets of data we’re waiting for,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“One is in care homes where Public Health England are testing residents in care homes because they are in category one, and one with health frontline workers who are category two of that top nine.

“Those pieces of evidence, coupled with other pieces of evidence from other countries as well, will hopefully give us a very clear road map to opening the economy where we see a huge reduction, hopefully, in deaths and hospitalisation.”

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the rate of the fall in Covid-19 cases made him optimistic that restrictions on households mixing could be lifted as soon as next month and that pupils could be back to school before the Prime Minister’s March 8 target date.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “I think there could well be a case for opening schools sooner – I particularly think schools for children under 11 years of age, where the evidence that they contribute to the spread of the epidemic in the wider population is a lot lower.

“I would certainly hope to see schools, and particularly junior schools, opening relatively soon.”

There have been 148,725 new coronavirus cases confirmed by a positive test in the past seven days – a 26 percent drop on the week before.

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