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Johnson needs a clear route out of lockdown – or he’ll risk a Tory rebellion | Katy Balls

The MPs who believe the prime minister is in thrall to his scientific advisers are increasingly restive

Throughout the pandemic, Boris Johnson has sought to reassure both the public and his MPs that if they waited long enough, a scientific breakthrough would arrive and transform the landscape. He’s talked about the “distant bugle of the scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill”, and in November, after a study suggested the Pfizer vaccine was 90% effective, declared that the “toot of the bugle is louder, but it’s still some way off”.

Now that the government has hit its 15 million vaccination target for the top four priority groups early, many Tory MPs believe the bugle call is deafening and the cavalry can charge down the hill. Their new concern? The prime minister can’t hear it. The growing fear in the Conservative party is that the goalposts have been moved. As the prime minister puts the final touches to the government roadmap to easing lockdown, MPs sense a shift in strategy. For all health secretary Matt Hancock’s promise of a “great British summer”, social distancing could be here for some time, with ministers reported to be considering a 1-metre rule until at least the autumn.

In the past, Johnson has spoken of a coronavirus strategy based on preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed. This is why many Tory MPs hold the view that once the first nine priority groups – whom the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, says account for up to 99% of Covid hospitalisations and deaths – have had their first jab, the bulk of restrictions can start to be lifted. But in recent weeks, MPs believe Johnson’s focus has moved to transmission. “He [Johnson] seems to have been swayed by the whole argument about how you can’t have many cases,” says a government insider. With scientific advisers warning Johnson that community spread of the virus could spark new variants, there’s increased talk of cases needing to fall to the hundreds before significant socialising can occur.

Related: UK Covid live: England lockdown to be eased in stages, says PM, amid reports of nationwide mass testing

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Read the original article at The Guardian

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