Boris Johnson faces fresh Tory pressure to speed up lockdown easing

Boris Johnson faces fresh Tory pressure to speed up lockdown ‘road map’ as deaths continue to plunge and first easings start TODAY with schools back and one-on-one chats allowed

  • Boris Johnson facing more Tory pressure to speed up relaxation of the lockdown
  • Senior MPs say the timeline should be brought forward with vaccines working
  • Schools are going back and one-on-one social meetings allowed outside today 

Boris Johnson is facing fresh Tory pressure to bring forward his lockdown timetable as deaths continue to plunge.

The first phase of the relaxation plan is coming into effect today, with pupils returning to classrooms and one-on-one social meetings allowed outdoors.

However, despite the surging vaccine rollout and deaths continuing to plummet the PM has so far dismissed calls for the relaxations to be speeded up.

In England, non-essential shops are set to open from April 12, and pubs and restaurants will be able to serve outside from the same date – but the restrictions will not be lifted in full until June 21.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, head of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, has warned that by the end of April it will look ‘odd’ that England still has tough curbs if fatalities and cases continue to tumble.  

Despite the surging vaccine rollout and deaths continuing to plummet Boris Johnson (pictured right yesterday) has so far dismissed calls from Tories including Mark Harper (left) for the relaxations to be speeded up

The first phase of the relaxation plan is coming into effect today, with pupils returning to classrooms and one-on-one social meetings allowed outdoors

‘With the speed that we’re seeing deaths, hospitalisations and infections drop, I think when we get to the end of April it’s going to look a bit odd that the government’s roadmap still has another two months nearly to run,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour. 

‘And I think if it believes in data not dates, as the data improves the government should bring forward the roadmap rather than be tied to the dates it’s already set out.’

There were further positive signs over the weekend that the virus is being quelled.

It was revealed yesterday that another 82 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday – the first time that fewer than 100 deaths have been reported since October 19.

The case rate continued its decline with 5,177 more infections recorded.

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to accelerate her cautious timetable for Scotland this week after saying the picture was much more ‘optimistic’, and moves are also due in Wales.  

Mr Johnson said he hoped the tentative softening today will be a ‘big step’ on his ‘road map to freedom’.

As well as pupils returning to classrooms for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

While the ‘stay at home’ message will remain in place, it means people can leave home to meet one other person for a coffee or picnic.

He told the Telegraph that even though it was ‘only a small relaxation of the rules’, this week’s changes would bring ‘joy and relief’ to families after months of ‘tough restrictions’.

Asked yesterday about the risks involved with reopening more than 20,000 schools, echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return to in-person lessons.

‘I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen,’ he said on a visit to a north London vaccination centre.

It comes after Amanda Spielman, England’s chief schools inspector, expressed concern about eating disorders and self-harming among children after she said pupils endured ‘boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety’ during England’s third lockdown.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was looking at proposals that included a five-term academic year, a shorter summer holiday and longer school days to help pupils catch up on lost learning during the pandemic in ‘transformative’ measures not seen since the Second World War.

But Ofsted chief Ms Spielman, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday for her opinion, said such ideas had fallen by the wayside in the past and that any proposals should have the support of parents.

‘I think a number of schools have experimented over the last couple of decades with things like five-term years and I don’t think many of those have persisted,’ she said.

Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs before the school day starts, with leader Sir Keir Starmer and his shadow education secretary Kate Green due to argue during a visit to a school in east London on Monday that the concept would allow for both extra socialising and learning.

The party said its analysis of Government data suggested children have each lost an average of 109 face-to-face school days since the first lockdown in March 2020.

Secondary school pupils, who are likely to have their return staggered over the week to allow for mass testing, are being asked to take three voluntary Covid-19 tests on site and one at home over the first fortnight. They will then be sent home-testing kits to do twice-weekly.

The Department for Education (DfE) is also advising secondary school students to wear face coverings wherever social distancing cannot be maintained, including in the classroom.

But primary school children are not being asked to carry out Covid-19 tests or wear face masks on their return.

Some children will also return to classrooms in Northern Ireland for the first time since December.

P1 to P3 pupils will return to class but are set to go back to remote learning after two weeks.

First Minister Arlene Foster has expressed hope that those primary pupils will ultimately be able to remain in school.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of care home residents in England will be able to receive indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative as of this week.

Visitors will be tested prior to visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.

Handholding is permitted but hugs and kissing are not, to help reduce the chance of spreading the virus, the Government has said in its latest visiting guidance.   

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