Covid: Anti-lockdown Tory MPs to resist ‘repeated’ restrictions.
Conservative MPs who voted against the current lockdown in England have formed a new group aimed at preventing further blanket national restrictions.
The Covid Recovery Group will argue for a different approach when the current curbs end on 2 December to enable the country to “live with the virus”.
Its 30-plus members want more analysis of the economic damage being done and to challenge the scientific advice.
The PM has stressed the NHS is at risk of a “medical disaster” without action.
Boris Johnson has insisted the data on hospitalisations and deaths is “irrefutable” and justified the four-week closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities, which took effect from 4 November.
A further 20,412 coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Tuesday, with another 532 deaths within 28 days of a positive test recorded.
Although Parliament overwhelmingly backed the restrictions – which include a ban on contacts between members of different households outside a support bubble either indoors or in private gardens – in a vote at the start of November, 34 Tory MPs opposed them while 19, including former PM Theresa May, abstained.
The government has said it intends to revert to the previous regionalised system of tiered restrictions when the lockdown period ends.
Ministers have been warned that they face an even bigger rebellion if they try to extend the lockdown over the Christmas and New Year period.
The Covid Recovery Group – whose members include ex-Chief Whip Mark Harper and the chairman of the powerful 1922 committee of backbench Tories Sir Graham Brady – says the “devastating cycle” of repeated restrictions cannot be prolonged.
The group, which includes all those who voted against the lockdown and others who backed it, wants ministers to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the restrictions to determine whether they are costing more lives than they are saving by stopping cancer and dementia treatments and increasing suicide rates among the under-40.
It is also calling for an end to the “monopoly” it says scientists have on advising the government.
It wants all of the statistical modelling informing decisions to be published, following recent rows over the reliability of data, and for a wider range of multi-disciplinary experts to get “a seat the table”.
It says no policies should put before Parliament unless they are backed up by three “independent” expert opinions.
Figures published on Tuesday showed redundancies rose to a record high of 314,000 in the three months to the end of September, as firms laid off people in anticipation of the furlough scheme ending in November.
Despite the government extending the wage subsidy scheme to March, economists have said the jobs picture remains bleak, with further big rises in unemployment expected in the coming months.
Mr Harper said the country needed to find a “sustainable way” of living with Covid until a vaccine was available for mass use to stop “immense” economic damage.
“Lockdowns cost lives, whether in undiagnosed cancer treatments, deteriorating mental health and missed A&E appointments – not to mention the impact it has on young people’s education, job prospects and our soaring debts,” he said.
“The cure we’re prescribing runs the risk of being worse than the disease.”
The new pressure group, he added, would “play its part in helping the government to deliver an enduring strategy for living with the virus, so that we break the transmission of the disease, command public support, end this devastating cycle of repeated restrictions”.
Speaking in Parliament earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was critical people continued to follow the rules to get the R number below one, telling MPs “our plan is working”.
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