express– The Prime Minister will on Monday confirm that the second lockdown will end on December 2 – but will be replaced by toughened up “tier” measures. His replacement Winter Covid Plan will be “difficult”, ministers admit, with one source saying: “This will not be a normal festive period.” These plans, which MPs can vote on this coming Thursday, would see the country return to a tougher version of the controversial three-tier system, with more areas in the highest category.
But the rebels, who point out the harm that such restrictions cause, will refuse to support the measures unless it is demonstrated they “will save more lives than they cost”.
They warn in a letter to Mr Johnson: “The lockdown cure prescribed runs the very real risk of being worse than the disease.”
Science advisors from Sage will publish further papers on Monday, setting out scientific advice expected to state that the previous tiers were not strong enough, and that a tougher regional approach is required.
This could see shops remain shut in tier 3 areas and pubs and restaurants closed in tier 2 areas. It could also have extreme limitations on people from different households meeting.
The Government insists that the plans “will not last any longer than absolutely necessary” and that tiers will be “reviewed on a regular basis”.
But the plans are set to be opposed by the new Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs chaired by former minister and leadership contender Mark Harper and founded by prominent Brexiteer Steve Baker.
A CRG letter, signed by 70 Conservative MPs and 14 peers, has been sent to the Prime Minister and makes it clear that they will not support any attempt to bring in a third lockdown.
Significantly, the group have also said that any attempt to reintroduce the tier system in England will have to be justified by clear scientific evidence.
This follows ongoing concerns that figures quoted by Mr Johnson, his chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty to justify the second lockdown were inaccurate.
Figures produced at a press conference ahead of lockdown included an extreme death toll of up to 4,000 fatalities a day. These statistics have been criticised for being out of date and not taking into account the effects of the tier system.
A second letter signed by more than 60 MPs and organised by Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh has demanded that places of worship are allowed to reopen in all areas.
The CRG letter notes: “The tiered restrictions approach in principle attempts to link virus prevalence with measures to tackle it, but it’s vital we remember always that even the tiered system of restrictions infringes deeply upon people’s lives with huge health and economic costs. Even tier 1 only allows groups of up to six people to meet indoors.
“We cannot support this approach further unless the Government demonstrates the restrictions proposed for after 2nd December will have an impact on slowing the transmission of Covid, and will save more lives than they cost.
“To this end, the Government must publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the proposed restrictions on a regional basis so that MPs can assess responsibly the non-Covid health impact of restrictions, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods.”
MPs said they are “especially concerned” about outside sport, the 10pm curfew, closure of non-essential retail, gyms and personal care businesses, restrictions on worship, care home visits, hospitality and the inclusion of children under 12 in the “Rule of 6”.
“The burden is on the Government to demonstrate the necessity and proportionality of each restriction,” they added.
The same tone was also struck by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham in comments ahead of a meeting of the northern metropolitan mayors on Monday.
Mr Burnham said: “There’s no point having restrictions just to be seen to be doing something – make sure they are things that will actually bring the number of cases down.”
Saturday saw a further 341 deaths and 19,875 cases were recorded, down from 511 deaths and 20,252 cases on the previous day.
The Government believes that recent positive developments on vaccines and mass testing “provide real confidence” that the reliance on economic and social restrictions to control the virus can be gradually reduced in the run up to spring.
Provided vaccines are approved by regulators, the first injections can be made next month before being rolled out more widely in the New Year.
A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “Everyone’s efforts during the current national restrictions have helped bring the virus back under control, slowed its spread and eased pressures on the NHS.
“But the Prime Minister and his scientific advisors are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.
“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”
Former chief Government scientific advisor Sir Mark Walport told Times Radio the lockdown measures appeared to be working but that people should continue to follow the rules.
He cautioned: ”It’s absolutely clear that if you were to stop everything and take the brakes off completely, then infection would start growing again and so the question is what measures will come in after December 2?
“I’m sure there will need to be continuing measures of some sort. Surely now, when there is the prospect of a vaccine, is not the time to give up.”
Additional pressure was piled on Mr Johnson from the Blue Collar Conservative group which has launched a campaign to reclaim the £1.9billion given in covid aid to supermarkets and give it to self-employed people who have had little support.
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said the cash should be used to help people running small businesses who do not qualify for help and are on the brink of ruin.
Ms McVey said: “Supermarkets need to hand back the £1.9billion of support they got from taxpayers in the form of exempted business rates. This money was designed to protect shops on the high street which were closed during the pandemic – not to provide extra money for supermarkets that not only remained open throughout but have positively prospered in that time.
“They must know it is the right thing to do. And if the big supermarket chains won’t do the right thing and hand the money back, then the government should take it from them in a windfall tax.”