A cabal of Conservative MPs are pressing the prime minister to set out an exit strategy from lockdown as the UK records it highest daily death toll from the virus to date.
Another 1,610 people have died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19 – a new record high that takes the total number of deaths past another grim milestone to 91,470.
Members of the Covid Research Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs are citing vaccine roll-out forecasts to call for an easing of lockdown restrictions from March 8. The government has pledged to vaccinate 15 million of the most vulnerable members of society by February 15 and the MPs said ministers should prepare to ease rules three weeks later.
“We locked down the country and shut down our schools on the basis of a forecast, so why can’t we open it up on the basis of one too?” said Steve Baker MP, the deputy chair of the CRG.
“It is not sustainable to leave the public and British businesses languishing any longer.”
‘We owe it to NHS staff not to lift lockdown too soon’
However, a member of the Independent Sage group of scientists said “we owe it to NHS staff” not to lift lockdown early, because frontline health workers are “suffering more stress than frontline soldiers right now”.
Health research mathematician and member of the Independent Sage group of scientists, Prof Christina Pagel told Channel 4 News this evening (Tuesday) that while it looks like cases are falling 20% a week, hospital admissions are not falling as fast, and in some regions they are still rising.
There is “almost double” the number of patients in hospital now, as there were during the first wave of the virus, said the professor, arguing the lockdown has “to go on well beyond February.”
The main reasons not to ease restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus are because 92% of coronavirus cases are in people aged under 70, with further concerns around long Covid as well as possible virus mutations. All are more likely if vaccination leads to lockdown being lifted too early.
‘We haven’t peaked yet’
During the first wave the NHS recorded 40 days with more than 10,000 people in hospital. A British Medical Association (BMA) survey in the summer showed about half of frontline ICU (intensive care unit) staff had post traumatic stress disorder while one-in-five nurses had thoughts of suicide.
In the second wave there have been more than 80 days with more than 10,000 patients in hospital – “and we haven’t peaked yet,” warned the professor. For comparison there were around 2,000 people in hospital with the virus in September.
“We have probably got another eight weeks before we even get back down to 10,000 people in hospital, which is still a huge number.”
Prof Pagel said NHS staff are working beyond their limit and being traumatised, actually “suffering more stress than frontline soldiers right now”, adding: “We owe it to them [NHS staff] not to increase their burden.”
Hancock isolating until Sunday
Meanwhile health secretary Matt Hancock is self-isolating again after being “pinged” by the NHS Test and Trace app yesterday of a positive contact. Hancock – who contracted coronavirus in March 2020 – will remain in isolation until Sunday. Before he was notified, Hancock led the Downing Street press conference with NHS England medical director Prof Stephen Powis and Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins.
In a video message posted on Twitter Hancock said: “This self isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing” measures and added he will “not [be] leaving the house at all”.