Over the weekend, more than 60 CRG members signed a letter calling for the Prime Minister to commit to a firm timetable ending with the lifting of all legal controls by the end of April.
Backbenchers have increased the pressure this morning, with 13 MPs, including the influential chairman of the 1922 committee of Tories Graham Brady and former Cabinet minister Esther McVey, calling for Covid-safe weddings to resume from March 8 before permitting unrestricted ceremonies from May 1, PA reports.
But Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist advising the government’s Covid response, urged caution and said there is “always a risk” around new variants, either from strains emerging from abroad or from home.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain:
Our current virus, which is the dominant one in the country, only requires one or two more mutations to partially escape immunity – and that means immunity naturally gained or immunity gained by being vaccinated – and so it is imperative that we monitor the situation as closely as we can.
On BBC Breakfast Matt Hancock said “we very much hope” that this will be the last lockdown, adding: “Having a sustainable exit – so, lifting the measures in such a way that can be sustainable and we don’t have to have another lockdown – that is obviously an important part of our considerations.”
The health secretary cited “early evidence” showing vaccines reduce the spread of Covid-19 by about two thirds but he stressed ministers want to “see that actually in the data, not just from the trials”, as well as a drop in hospital admissions and deaths from jabs, when considering easing restrictions.
He said he communicates with the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown-sceptical Tory MPs “all the time” as ministers consider a “very important and fine judgment”.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said there is “some way to go” before lockdown is eased, as ministers are to begin reviewing coronavirus restrictions in England.
He said this morning that the government was awaiting key data on how successfully vaccines reduce transmission.
He told BBC Breakfast:
We are taking those decisions this week, so we will be looking at the data, looking at the success of the vaccine rollout and how far that has reached and its impact in terms of protecting people, looking at the number of cases and, critically, looking at the number of people who are in hospital and the number of deaths – those two factors are vital.
Right now, as of today, at the latest count there are still over 23,000 people in hospital with Covid – that’s more than in the April peak. So we’ve still got some way to go, but we are looking to set out that roadmap on Monday.
More than 15 million people in the UK have had at least one shot of a Covid vaccine in the first wave of jabs aimed at protecting the over-70s, the clinically extremely vulnerable and health and social care workers.
My colleague Ian Sample answers some common questions about the next steps of the vaccine rollout here:
My name is Nicola Slawson and I’m running today’s coronavirus liveblog. Thanks so much for reading!
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NHS staff have begun vaccinating people over the age of 65 and people who are clinically vulnerable today. More than a million people in those categories have already received their invitations to book their first jab.
More than 15 million people in the UK have had at least one shot of a Covid vaccine in the first wave of jabs aimed at protecting the over-70s, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and health and social care workers.
The vaccine will now be rolled out to groups five and six on the priority list. These include people aged 65 to 69 and those who have underlying health problems that put them at greater risk of severe illness or death from the disease.
Ministers plan to vaccinate the remaining priority groups, six to nine – estimated to be 17 million people – in the first phase of the rollout before May.