'Be careful' easing lockdown, MPs urge ahead of roadmap
- Credit: PA
Two Suffolk MPs have urged caution over easing Covid-19 restrictions ahead of the prime minister unveiling his roadmap out of lockdown today.
Boris Johnson will today outline his blueprint for easing the stringent measures in England, amid a clamour of warnings from scientists to act gradually and calls from some Tory MPs to lift all legal restrictions by May.
The relaxation comes amid a backdrop of promising data suggesting coronavirus infections are dropping, as well as news that all adults should be offered a Covid-19 vaccination by July 31.
Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, called for restrictions to be lifted "carefully".
"My first thought, having lived through this on the medical side as well and seen patients die who otherwise would still be with us, is that we do need to be very careful in easing restrictions," Dr Poulter said.
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"Because as we've seen in the past, it only takes three or four weeks, particularly with some of the more virulent strains that have now emerged, for things to get out of hand.
"Restrictions should be lifted carefully and that should be guided by the evidence of infection rates coupled with hospital admissions and data on how the vaccine programme is working through."
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Dr Poulter said getting pupils back to schools should be a priority in the easing of restrictions but others sectors may have to wait longer.
"The priority has got to be schools, and getting children back.
"All the evidence I have seen would suggest that for primary schools, in particular, there is relatively low transmission among primary school pupils," he said.
"So I think getting primary schools back as soon as the data allows, which I would hope would be relatively soon, probably early to mid-March, would be the priority for me.
"As the weather is gradually improving, we know that transmission outdoors is reduced, so I hope we can see households being allowed to mix in gardens and outdoors as a first step.
"But we do know that Christmas shopping was a big contributor to increasing transmission, and it's inevitably going to be the case that non-essential retail is going to have to wait probably another few weeks before it opens.
"Undoubtedly, everything else will come after that, for example pubs and hospitality. Particularly from an indoor perspective we are going to have to wait until infection rates are well below 1,000 on a national level.
"I am very much guided by what I've seen on the frontline of this, and I don't want to see more loss of life.
"Also if you look at it from a business perspective, it doesn't benefit businesses if we open the taps too soon and businesses are open for two or three weeks and then have to shut them again.
"So I think a gradual easing is better from a health perspective but also from a business perspective as well."
Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney, echoed Dr Poulter's comments, calling for a gradual relaxation of restrictions.
"We've come a very long way, the country as a whole, made tremendous sacrifices since the turn of the year when it looked pretty grim," he said.
"So I think we've come a long way in terms of getting the pandemic and the virus under control and also with the roll-out of the vaccine.
"I think we just, therefore, need to tread carefully and I think it would be wrong based on what happened last year to set out a lot of staging posts, saying such and such a sector is going to open on such and such a date.
"I think it has got to be very gradual, I think it's a question of indicating a direction of travel and where one might expect those staging posts along the way to be rather than hammering those milestones into the ground."
He added that getting pupils back to school and rules for care homes were very important.
"I would hope to see an indication about getting pupils and students back to schools. I wouldn't want to be too prescriptive at this stage but I think that is something that needs to be addressed as a high priority," he said.
"Also, it is quite clear that for those in care homes, it has been a very challenging year.
"For a lot of older people in care homes, a year is a very long time. People, partners, husbands and wives, who may be separated in that situation, are at a time of their lives when spending time together is very precious and important.
"I get the sense that actually quite a little bit of effort and thought has gone into how we can address that particular concern in a safe way."