A Tory lockdown sceptic has called for all coronavirus restrictions to be dropped as soon as the top nine priority groups are vaccinated.
Mark Harper, chair of the COVID Recovery Group of backbench Conservative MPs, also claimed the goal posts for reopening society are being shifted as he demanded that the national lockdown is completely dropped within the next few months.
The government has said in its vaccines delivery plan that it aims to have offered a jab to all people in the nine priority groups – over-50s, care home residents, clinically extremely vulnerable people and over-16s with underlying health conditions – by “spring”.
Spring is defined by the Met Office as March, April, or May.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly said 8 March is the earliest date lockdown restrictions may start to be eased, but he hasn’t said when the lockdown may be fully lifted.
Meanwhile health secretary Matt Hancock said, while addressing Harper in the House of Commons on Tuesday, that vaccines are only one of four factors which will decide when lockdown ends.
In addition, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty has previously stated that restrictions will have to be lifted gradually, and that curbs won’t just “suddenly stop”.
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But Harper, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on Thursday, left no doubt as to what he expects.
He asserted: “Once you’ve done the top nine groups – that’s 99% of deaths and over 80% of hospitalisations – that’s the point at which you can get rid of restrictions completely.
“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 post.
“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.”
Earlier on Thursday, Dr Dominic Pimenta, chair of the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation which supports frontline NHS staff during the pandemic, said the “push to reopen early” is “utterly insane”.
Writing on Twitter, he said an “unmitigated spread” of the virus through a “partially vaccinated population” could lead to vaccine-resistant COVID variants, as well as citing a huge backlog on the NHS waiting list – which he argued could be added to with thousands of younger COVID patients.
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