Boris Johnson faces growing pressure from Tory MPs to push ahead with unlocking on June 21

·4 min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Colchester hospital - Reuters
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Colchester hospital - Reuters

Boris Johnson faces growing pressure from Tory MPs to push ahead with unlocking on June 21, as scientists remain split on whether they believe it should be delayed.

Senior Conservatives warned that unless the data on the Delta variant of coronavirus - the renamed strain previously known as the Indian strain - worsened significantly, it would be hard to justify postponing the final step in the roadmap out of restrictions.

They urged the Prime Minister to think carefully before deviating from his blueprint, as new cases surged but no deaths were recorded in England from the virus on Monday.

Scientists are divided on whether the final tranche of restrictions should be lifted later this month. Nightclubs are due to reopen and all legal limits on social interaction are due to be abolished, including caps on attendees at large events, at step four of the roadmap.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) that advises Government, suggested there would be little value in delaying moves to scrap social distancing restrictions on June 21.

He told Times Radio: “There is no realistic prospect of the NHS facing the sorts of pressures that it faced in January and February, and that's why I think we have to push on with this.”

The sociology professor added: “It’s not clear what the value of that would be and the critics can’t even agree on what sort of delay they’d like. It’s a couple of weeks, three or four weeks, a couple of months. At the margins, these things make very little difference.”

His view contrasted markedly with that of an immunisation expert, who warned that the Covid-19 vaccination programme has some way yet to go.

Professor Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said there are still many people who are vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus as he warned “the idea that somehow the job is done is wrong”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s vulnerability across the country. The idea that somehow the job is done is wrong.

“We’ve still got a lot of people out there who've neither had this virus... nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we're in a vulnerable position right now.”

Speaking to LBC, Prof Finn said that pressing ahead with the easing of restrictions on June 21 “may be a bad decision”.

Professor Ravi Gupta, another member of Nervtag, said a delay of a few weeks could have a significant impact on Britain’s battle against the pandemic and recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on the surge in cases of the new variant.

“Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this,” Prof Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Meanwhile Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the Government, said he hoped that the nation was not in the foothills of a third wave of the pandemic, but added: “I hope not, but it’s not impossible.”

He said Britain was at “a quite perilous moment”, but highlighted that while infections were rising, “on the much better news side is the fact that hospital admissions are not surging” and overall were “coming down”.

The situation is “genuinely very, very finely balanced”, he concluded.

The varying scientific views emerged as Peter Bone, a member of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, told The Telegraph: “There would have to be really strong evidence to delay it in my view. We're not just talking about the illness, but we’ve got the issue with the economy, and the mental health issues are huge ones.”

He added that “to take away the freedoms of the British people”, including the freedom to gather in large numbers, there has to be a “fundamental, real, serious reason for doing it - not just because something might happen”.

While Mr Bone said it was “proper” for the Government to wait until June 14 to make a decision because “something could happen in the next few weeks”, he stressed that “as we sit now, I can’t see why we wouldn’t unlock” on June 21.

William Wragg, another member of the CRG, warned: “Rather than delaying, I’d sooner see absolute and continued focus on getting the vaccine into people as soon as possible.”

Another Conservative MP, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “You can take it as read that there are many of us who are concerned by this coordinated crescendo of warnings and noise from scientists speaking in a ‘personal capacity’.”