WHEN the PM said in January that his roadmap out of lockdown would allow us to “reclaim our lives once and for all”, he created the spirit of hope and optimism that powered him to a brilliant election victory just over a year ago.
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Tomorrow’s roadmap from the PM should be a moment of unity for our country as we look ahead with hope and optimism for a much brighter future
For most of the past year the Government has been taking big decisions and asking us to change our lives so we could all do our bit to protect the NHS and save lives.
Now that vaccines are here, we can achieve those aims through vaccination, rather than lockdowns or restrictions.
The Government and the NHS have done a fantastic job hitting the target of getting the top four at-risk groups their all-important first dose by February 15.
These groups account for 88 per cent of deaths and about 55 per cent of hospital admissions from Covid.
These groups will be protected by the vaccines from March 8, as it takes up to three weeks for a dose to take full effect. So any restrictions left in place after that should be proportionate to the harm Covid is by then capable of causing.
This means that when the PM stands up in Parliament tomorrow he should be able to announce that we can start relaxing restrictions from March 8.
Now that vaccines are here, we can all do our bit to protect the NHS and save livesCredit: Getty Images – Getty
When Boris Johnson stands up in Parliament tomorrow, he should be able to announce that we can start relaxing restrictions from March 8Credit: AFP
Open pubs for Easter
The top priority should be the full reopening of all schools. The PM said this month that it was the “settled will” of Parliament “to get our school-children back on March 8”.
Keeping schools closed is damaging the mental health and prospects of our young people and pushing parents to breaking point by making them juggle jobs with home-schooling.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said: “The evidence that not going to school damages children in the long run is overwhelming.”
As the PM said last August: “Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.”
I couldn’t put it better myself. The evidence shows that even from new strains of the virus — as vaccinologists have made clear and ministers have agreed — the vaccine protects against death and hospitalisation.
The PM said recently that scientists think all the vaccines, “are effective in delivering a high degree of protection against serious illness and death, which is the most important thing”.
The top priority is to reopen fully all schools as it is damaging prospects of our young peopleCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Given the lightning-quick pace of the vaccine rollout, by Easter we will have protected more than two-thirds of risk groups five to nine. That is everyone over 50 and everyone over 16 with a health condition that makes them more vulnerable to Covid.
Public health data shows that when hospitality venues were open and trading last year, infections linked to the sector were extremely low.
It therefore makes sense to enable pubs and restaurants to open for Easter — where they can be Covid-secure — to avoid them going to the wall and to protect jobs. Once all nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April there is no justification for any domestic legal restrictions to remain.
These groups represent 99 per cent of Covid deaths and about 80 per cent of hospital admissions. What’s more, from figures unearthed by The Sun on Sunday, it is clear from the big drop in A&E attendance that significant numbers of people with serious health conditions have been discouraged from attending hospital.
It is important that if you have a serious health condition and need medical attention you should get it, or we are just storing up really serious non-Covid health problems for the future.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, has said that Covid is going to be with us “for ever”. And the MoD’s Chief Scientific Adviser only this week said officials have “cried out again and again” for someone “in a position of political power” to decide what an acceptable level of risk is from Covid in the future.
Covid-secure pubs and restaurants should be opened for Easter to avoid them going to the wall and to protect jobsCredit: AFP or licensors
Sir Patrick Vallance has said that Covid will be with us ‘for ever’ but we cannot shut our nation for everCredit: Getty Images – Getty
‘Can’t shut for ever’
Ministers are paid to take these decisions. To govern is to choose.
They should be leading this debate about what the acceptable level of risk is from a disease that will be with us for ever.
We cannot shut down our nation for ever or even during a difficult winter.
Ministers must consider not just the scientific and medical advice, but also the economic and social consequences of their policies in order to reach a balanced judgment about the right decisions for our country.
Vaccines protect us from Covid but they must also protect us from Covid-related restrictions
Vaccines protect us from Covid and they must also protect us from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions.
Tomorrow’s roadmap from the PM should be a moment of unity for our country as we look ahead with confidence, hope and optimism for a much brighter future — as we reclaim our lives once and for all.
- Mark Harper, Conservative MP for Forest of Dean since 2005, is a former government chief whip and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group.
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