Boris Johnson is under growing pressure from furious Tory grandees to set out a ‘clear end date’ for local lockdowns.
Senior Conservative Party figures have warned the Prime Minister he must announce a ‘strategy for returning life to normal’ as they said an indefinite cycle of localised shutdowns is not acceptable and would wreck the economy.
The intervention came amid growing speculation that ministers could this week agree to new ‘super’ Tier Three restrictions which would be imposed on the parts of the country with the highest coronavirus infection rates.
However, hopes of a vaccine breakthrough have increased after it emerged that Jonathan Van Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, privately told MPs that a jab could be ready for roll out shortly after Christmas.
Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure from Tory grandees to set out an end date for local lockdowns
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said the Government must set out a ‘strategy for returning life to normal’
Lockdown critics are on red alert after Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, said last week that the draconian Tier Three measures will not be enough to get the R rate below the key number of 1.
He said on Friday the ‘baseline’ measures set out in the top tier of restrictions, which include shutting pubs and banning household mixing indoors, ‘almost certainly aren’t enough’ to get the virus back under control.
But the prospect of even stricter rules being rolled out by the Government is likely to spark an angry Tory backlash.
Many Tory MPs and peers believe the current blueprint of local lockdowns is not sustainable in the longer term.
Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said it was ‘pointless’ to rely on lockdowns to suppress on the virus.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘If further restrictions on people’s lives are proposed, the Government has to set a clear end date and a strategy for returning life to normal.’
Lord Lamont of Lerwick, the former chancellor, said repeatedly imposing lockdowns and then lifting them was ‘deeply damaging to business and is not really a strategy’.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative backbencher, has urged the Government to set out a ‘living with coronavirus’ policy.
He and five other Essex MPs have also called for more financial support for businesses in Tier Two areas.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We keep all measures under review and we don’t want restrictions to be in place any longer than is necessary, but where the virus is spreading we must take targeted action in order to save lives, protect the NHS, keep children at school and shelter the economy.’
It came as it emerged that Mr Van Tam had told MPs during a private briefing on Monday afternoon that a vaccine may only be weeks away.
According to The Sunday Times, he said: ‘We aren’t light years away from it. It isn’t a totally unrealistic suggestion that we could deploy a vaccine soon after Christmas.
‘That would have a significant impact on hospital admissions and deaths.’
The row over local lockdowns came as the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, blamed Chancellor Rishi Sunak for being ‘the problem’ in the standoff over moving the region into Tier Three.
The feud between Number 10 and the Labour mayor continued yesterday after Downing Street said fresh talks had been set up for the weekend, only for Mr Burnham’s office to deny that was the case.
Mr Burnham and Conservative politicians in Greater Manchester oppose Tier Three measures being imposed, with the mayor calling for greater financial support for workers and businesses.
He has called for a return to the generosity of the original furlough scheme that saw the Treasury pay 80 per cent of workers wages, but Mr Sunak has only offered a 66 per cent subsidy for those whose firms forced to shut by Tier Three measures.
The Greater Manchester mayor told the New Statesman magazine: ‘I think the problem now is, to a large degree, the Chancellor. I think he’s made wrong judgements throughout this.’
Downing Street indicated a call had been scheduled for Sunday morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham.
But a spokesman for the mayor said: ‘Nothing has yet been arranged.’
A Downing Street source responded: ‘No 10 reached out this morning to try and arrange a meeting with the Mayor of Manchester.
‘We will continue to try and reach an agreement on these difficult, yet necessary, measures to protect the NHS and the people of Manchester.’
Mr Johnson on Friday threatened to impose measures on Greater Manchester without local support as he warned that ‘time is of the essence’ and that ‘tragically more people will die’ with each day of delay.