Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi today suggested that social distancing could be maintained for the foreseeable future – potentially long after the lock is lifted.
Mr Zahawi said the government’s approach to fighting the spread of coronavirus must be “guided by data, not just dates”.
His comments came amid reports that government scientific advisers are increasingly advocating keeping the rules in a move that could have disastrous long-term consequences for the hospitality sector.
There will be an active debate in Whitehall about how long the one-meter limit will be needed as ministers try to balance the needs of the economy with the need to reduce the infection rate.
A government source told Sky News: ‘This is a murderous argument and no decision has been made. A lot of that rests on some companies – the difference is between being sustainable and not. ‘
It came as Boris Johnson prepares to present his eagerly awaited lockout strategy on Monday, February 22nd.
The draft version of the map for returning to normal life is more than 50 pages long, according to The Telegraph.
The success of the government’s introduction of the vaccine has strengthened hopes of quickly easing restrictions, but sources warn there will be no “big bang” after closure.
It was hoped that certain activities, such as the wedding provided by Covid and singing in church, would be able to return by Easter Sunday, April 4, but that now seems unlikely.
Boris Johnson will present his eagerly awaited exit lock strategy on Monday, February 22nd
The debate over how long the one-meter plus rule will last is currently an alleged “killer argument” at Whitehall
A senior source told the Telegraph: “It’s not going to be a big bang, it’s going to take a while.”
Mr Johnson said yesterday that he wanted the UK to make “cautious but irreversible” progress when the lock is lifted.
Ministers should discuss plans to allow stores to reopen, family reunification and self-service approvals if the Covid-19 infection rate continues to plummet. Governments want schools reopened on March 8th.
However, the prime minister frightened the Tories, demanding a quick return to normal life when he said he wanted to reduce the infection rate “really very low” to reduce the risk of new variants and protect himself from the fact that ‘no vaccination program is 100 percent effective’.
He said: ‘We would like the infection rates to really go down very low and so we have a strict border regime to stop the infection and as we get better with testing and monitoring and fighting new variants, we will want to see those rates really, really low.
‘Because the risk is that if you have a large amount of circulation, if you have a multitude of people, even young people, suffering from the disease, a few things happen.
‘First of all, you have a higher risk of new variants and mutations within the population in which the disease is circulating.
‘Second, there will also be a higher risk of the disease spreading again to older groups.
‘And although vaccines are effective and great, of course no vaccination program is 100% effective, so when you have a large amount of blood in your circulation, when you have a lot of disease, the vulnerable will inevitably suffer, so we want you to drive it down, put it down. ‘
The prime minister said his plan would include certain target dates when certain activities could be allowed and when certain sectors of the economy would be allowed to reopen.
Mr Johnson said at a news conference in Downing Street last night that he hoped the current blockade would be the last, but that he could not give a ‘cast iron’ guarantee that would be the case.
Now there are growing questions about what life will look like even after the rules are relaxed following reports that government scientific advisers believe social distancing and wearing masks will be needed long into the future.
Asked about the reports and whether he thinks social distancing will have to be in place, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: ‘We are all prosocial animals. In our DNA we want to socially communicate, we want to hug our children, grandchildren, friends.
‘I would say this: We have to deal with data, not just dates.
Officers vaccinated the vast majority of the four main priority groups – all over the age of 70, NHS staff, residents and care workers and extremely ill adults
‘We need to follow the evidence of SAGE, by scientists, to make sure that if we are able to better control this virus, obviously our main way out of this pandemic is our vaccination program which we take care to deliver as quickly as possible , protecting the most vulnerable and then passing on to the entire adult population.
‘We want to offer the vaccine to the entire adult population by September.
‘But with that level of vaccination that we hope to see data on infection rate, transmission, there is some good data from Oxford, but there has to be expert verification and we are waiting for our own data from public health surveys in England that are now being conducted.
“But with that, overvoltage testing, tracing and isolation, and any other measures whether it’s wearing masks or social distancing, I think we need to be guided by data, not just dates.”