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Boris Johnson facing mounting Tory pressure to ease lockdown as he returns to work

4 min read

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure from Conservative MPs and donors to set out how Britain will leave its coronavirus lockdown as he returns to work following his battle with the illness.

Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, warned that extended lockdown risked “mass unemployment, business failure and catastrophic deterioration of the public finances”, while a string of Conservative financiers demanded a plan from the PM.

The calls came as the number of people confirmed to have died with Covid-19 in hospitals in the UK passed 20,000, with another 813 deaths announced. 

The grim toll is significant because the Government’s chief science adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told MPs in March that keeping the number of coronavirus deaths below 20,000 would represent a “good outcome in terms of where we would hope to get to with this outbreak”.

"Keeping the commercial and social life of the country on hold for longer than necessary would mean mass unemployment, business failure and catastrophic deterioration of the public finances" - Conservative grandee Sir Graham Brady

Mr Johnson will get back to work on Monday following his own fight with coronavirus, which saw him admitted to intensive care in a battle he has admitted “could have gone either way”.

The Prime Minister told aides he was “raring to go” and on Friday held a three-hour Chequers summit with his de facto deputy Dominic Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

A Downing Street insider said: "The PM has been doing all the right things and following his doctor’s advice to come back to work."

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Mr Johnson warned about a rapid lifting of Britain’s strict lockdown measures causing a “second peak” - and quoted Roman statesman Cicero’s dictum that “the health of the people should be the supreme law”.

But he will return to the fold amid mounting calls to detail how the curbs on daily life - now in force for more than a month - will be eased.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Sir Graham warned: “The public has complied with the Government’s requests in a remarkable way and that achievement has been at the heart of the success so far. But maintaining that consent in the coming weeks will only be possible if we are all involved in a grown-up national debate. Crucially, it will require compromise all round.”

The Tory grandee said: “We all know that ending the current restrictions prematurely would likely lead to deaths that might otherwise be avoidable. 

“But it is also increasingly obvious that keeping the commercial and social life of the country on hold for longer than necessary would mean mass unemployment, business failure and catastrophic deterioration of the public finances.”

And he called on the Prime Minister to “take account of the wider social and economic consequences” of lockdown, including a review of whether “restrictions on our liberty make sense”.

Meanwhile a string of Conservative donors told The Sunday Times that lockdown restrictions should be eased as soon as possible.

Michael Spencer, who donated to Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign last year, said: “We should start loosening up [the lockdown] as soon as we reasonably can and allow the economy to start moving forward. We should really begin to offer a narrative of how and when it’s going to stop.”

"The epidemic is in decline, but this doesn’t give us a lot of leeway to relax the lockdown without other interventions" - Prof Neil Ferguson, Imperial College London

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer has also renewed his call for the Government to set out an "exit strategy" from the strict lockdown measures, as he warned it was "not credible" for the Government to act as if discussions about lifting restrictions were not happening in Whitehall.

But Neil Ferguson, professor of epidemiology at Imperial College London and a key adviser to the Government during the outbreak, has warned that ministers will have little leeway to lift lockdown measures without triggering a second wave of the virus.

Research due out this week suggests the round of heavy restrictions on normal life has reduced the reproduction rate of the virus - the key measure of its spread - to below one.

But Prof Ferguson told The Sunday Times: “We have brought the reproduction number down to about 0.67, which means the epidemic is in decline, but this doesn’t give us a lot of leeway to relax the lockdown without other interventions.”

And he added: "If we want to move away from lockdown and reopen schools and workplaces, and let people go shopping again, we have to substitute other [social-distancing measures]."

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