Boris Johnson’s blueprint for life after lockdown started taking shape last night as cautious plans to lift restrictions emerged.
The Prime Minister is due to unveil his long-awaited road map ‘to unlock’ on February 22.
He is under pressure from Tory backbenchers to announce a major easing of curbs – while scientists are urging caution.
Government sources claimed ministers are expected to adopt a ‘tentative’ approach and are even considering a ‘booze ban’ on pubs to stop social distancing slipping.
Figures also revealed the 10pm curfew and requirement to order a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol will be ditched when pubs fully reopen.
Longer school days to make up for lost learning and free Covid tests for office workers were also reported to feature in the PM’s plans for life after lockdown.
Almost 11million people have now had their first shot of the vaccine and, with the R rate now below 1, ministers are facing mounting calls to flesh out exactly how they intend to lift restrictions.
The Government said it hopes to have offered jabs to all over-50s by May, meaning the 33million most vulnerable citizens would have been inoculated.
Some inside Downing Street are even more bullish and believe it is possible that almost all adults could have received a jab by then.
In a leaked resignation letter to the PM, No10 adviser Samuel Kasumu outlined his ‘view to leaving at the end of May, a time when we would hope the vast majority of the country’s adults would have received the first jab.’
As vaccine optimism focused minds on the eventual ending of lockdown:
Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine IS effective for over 65s, say experts
More evidence is emerging that the Oxford Covid vaccine works in older people, according to vaccine experts in the UK.
Sir Munir Pirmohamed, boss of the Commission on Human Medicines, today said regulators had received extra information from Oxford University and AstraZeneca scientists to prove their jab was safe and effective for over-65s.
The data, which is not yet publicly available, is coming now from same clinical trials in the UK and around the world that got it approved in the first place. They enrolled thousands more older people after the jab was green-lighted.
European leaders have ruffled the vaccine-maker’s feathers in recent weeks by claiming the vaccine doesn’t work on older people and refusing to use it.
In the same week that politicians were slinging mud at AstraZeneca for scaling back its deliveries, many European countries openly criticised the vaccine, with France’s President Macron calling it ‘quasi-ineffective’.
Oxford scientists hit back against the claims, with Professor Andrew Pollard saying he didn’t understand what Mr Macron’s comment meant. And the team behind the ground-breaking vaccine said the idea that it didn’t work had ‘no basis’.
In a video message posted to Twitter last night, Mr Johnson confirmed he would be outlining his road map later this month but remained tight-lipped on the specifics.
Yet Government sources revealed a range of proposals being considered, with much of the attention focused on how to reopen the nation’s pubs.
One told the Telegraph that hospitality could be given the green light to open in April but forced to operate under a strict ‘booze ban’ to stop drinkers straying from social distancing.
Another live discussion is for pubs to be permitted to sell takeaway pints from April before fully reopening in May, the Sun reports.
The PM has also tasked officials with ‘simplifying’ the rules for pubs, paving the way for the 10pm curfew to be ditched along with the requirement to order a ‘substantial meal’ with food.
A Government source said: ‘As the pandemic has changed in the past year we have always tried to adapt the rules to make them more effective and easier to understand. As we look to cautiously unlock, we will seek to do the same again.’
Another source said: ‘There is a hope to not get bogged down in ‘scotch egg-gate’ again, by effectively simplifying the rules to avoid confusion.’
Limiting indoor mixing is expected to be central to the Government’s strategy and venues will be encouraged to promote al fresco dining.
Landlords are desperate to welcome back customers after months shuttered during the crisis.
Pubs have had to throw away up to 87million pints of beer since the start of the pandemic, an industry body claimed.
The British Beer and Pub Association said the waste was equal to £331million in sales, and warned of job losses without more Government support.
In his video message, Mr Johnson reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to start the easing of lockdown by allowing schools to reopen on March 8 if possible.
The PM has marked out continued education as a ‘national priority’ and has vowed to help children account for lost learning.
Department for Education officials are even weighing up whether it would be viable to extend the school day to squeeze in more teaching time.
Sources told the Telegraph one option being mulled is for schools to tack an extra lesson on to both the start and end of the current day.
An extension had been pushed by some Tory MPs – but have been met with a backlash from teaching unions.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: ‘Research evidence shows that there are better methods to help pupils than lengthening the school day.
‘The Government must filter out loud calls for superficially attractive schemes and listen to the experts instead.’
Ministers plan ‘vaccine passports’ in boost for summer holidays
Ministers are believed to be thrashing out plans for ‘vaccine passports’.
The Times reports that documents could be provided for British holidaymakers to prove they have been inoculated against coronavirus.
It comes after several European countries including Greece, Spain, Malta and Denmark have signalled support for such a plan.
The Foreign Office, the Department for Transport and The Department for Health and Social Care are said to be working on a range of measures to enable a return to foreign travel – including the certificates to prove tourists have received a jab.
Cycles of lockdown has largely put paid to overseas leisure trips
But Government officials are reportedly in talks with Athens about the prospect of tourists heading to Greece this summer.
Pupils going back to classrooms will fire the starting gun on a tentative easing of restrictions, with outdoor mixing also reportedly earmarked for around March.
It is expected that outdoor sports such as golf and tennis will also be among the first things to be allowed after the planned return of schools from March 8.
Whitehall sources have previously suggested that all shops could be allowed to reopen from April, with hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants waiting until at least May.
Senior Tory backbencher Sir Charles Walker said yesterday that lockdown has been an ‘exercise in terrifying people witless’ as he urged Mr Johnson to set out his exit plan.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Tories’ backbench 1922 Committee, said the country was in a ‘far more optimistic place’, citing falling infection rates and the vaccine rollout.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme that the argument for England’s third national lockdown had been to stop the risk of the NHS becoming overwhelmed, but said the health service had ‘coped spectacularly well’.
‘Now that that threat is receding, we ought to be – and the Government says we are – looking to open up,’ he added.
Ministers are even reportedly looking ahead to summer holidays and studying the option of ‘vaccine passports’ so tourism can resume.
But former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said ministers should take a cautious approach to lifting the lockdown so that new coronavirus cases can be driven down to 1,000 a day.
And Professor Graham Medley, chairman of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said ministers should ‘make decisions dependent on the circumstances, rather than being driven by a calendar of wanting to do things’.
Local elections to go ahead on May 6
Local elections will go ahead in England in May – but voters will have to bring their own pencil to mark their ballot paper under new coronavirus safety rules.
The Cabinet Office confirmed that ‘Covid-secure’ polls would be held as planned, despite fears that the pandemic would lead to them being postponed again.
Under new rules, voters will have to wear face coverings inside polling stations and will be asked to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot.
And proxy voting rules will be changed so that people who have to self-isolate can request an emergency proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day.
The Cabinet Office said all nine priority cohorts – covering those aged 50 and over – are expected to have received coronavirus vaccines by May, meaning the Government can commit ‘with confidence’ to the polls going ahead.
It coincided with fresh modelling from Prof Neil Ferguson, who has warned of a possible extra 130,000 deaths by June 2022.
Considered by SAGE on January 14, the paper assumed that there will be a phased easing of lockdown between March and July, and warned that a ‘rapid ramp-up’ of vaccinations to ‘at least’ 3million doses a week is ‘critical to avoid exceeding national hospital capacity after the current wave’.
The government is currently maintaining around that level. But the report added: ‘This would still lead to an additional 130,800 (103,200 – 167,600) deaths between now and June 2022.’
The Imperial team suggested that its findings meant ‘a more cautious approach to gradually lifting (lockdown measures) may need to be considered than the ones modelled in this report.’
But Professor Lockdown’s modelling appears to be based on the assumption that about 50,000 Covid patients would be in hospital by mid-February, before dropping towards the end of the month.
In reality, the figures never exceeded 40,000 and have now dropped to about 30,000 already.
Another equally-pessimistic study submitted to SAGE warned curbs will need to be in place until at least September or there could be a ‘significant’ rebound in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
The undated modelling, done by various SAGE epidemiologists from universities around the country, said the highly-transmissible Kent variant would tear through the unvaccinated population over summer if the lockdown was lifted completely.
Mr Hancock confirmed the May vaccination target on a visit to Gatwick Airport this evening, although he stressed ‘a lot of things have to go right’.
But he struck a cautious tone on lockdown saying it was ‘too early’ to make decisions. ‘The NHS is still under pressure and we have all got to do out bit to keep these case rates going down,’ he said.