Pubs to Reopen in April – But Can’t Serve Alcohol

No, you didn’t read that wrong. According to the Telegraph, the Government is considering a temporary “booze ban” as part of its reopening plans.

Pubs and restaurants could reopen as soon as April if they agree not to sell alcohol under options being discussed to allow the widespread relaxation of coronavirus restrictions after Easter.

The Telegraph can disclose that a temporary “booze ban” is being considered as part of the Government’s roadmap for lifting lockdown, which will be unveiled on Feb 22nd.

It is understood the move is being discussed to allay concerns from Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, and others about the effect of drinking on social distancing.

Under the three-stage plan for lifting restrictions, some outdoor socialising is expected to be allowed in March and schools are set to return.

It is hoped that hospitality can then reopen in April and that all of the most vulnerable will be vaccinated by May, in time for the local elections.

Something tells me this won’t go down very well with publicans…

Worth reading in full.

Meanwhile, the Times is reporting that Boris has suddenly become one of the most fretful, cautious people in the Cabinet.

Any day now a folder will land on Boris Johnson’s desk. Inside will be longed-for data that will determine the nature of the next six months and very possibly his entire political legacy.

Public Health England’s best assessment of the effectiveness of the vaccination programme so far will in effect set the parameters for the nation’s exit from lockdown. The assessment shows the jabs are working as expected in protecting people from infection. It may also show encouraging signs on transmission as well as early real-world data on reduced mortality and hospital admissions. If so the prime minister can plot a spring unlocking and promise a glorious summer.

Insiders say he remains fretful. “He’s the person in the room saying, ‘Are you sure? I’m not as convinced as you are about this.’ It’s the scientists who are having to say, ‘It’s looking good.’” Critics would say his caution is overdue and there has been a tragic cost to his previous over-optimism but there is no denying his determination to avoid another false dawn.

Johnson met the executive of the 1922 Committee, a small group of the most senior Tory backbenchers, in his Commons office after PMQs on Wednesday. The group includes some of the most prominent lockdown sceptics in parliament, such as Sir Graham Brady and Steve Baker.

“He was very, very cautious,” a source said. “He described the road map as tentative and said that the NHS remains under severe pressure. He said above all that the government wants to avoid another lockdown.”

A Tory strategist puts it more bluntly. “The prime minister is acutely aware that there cannot be any reverse ferrets as the lockdown is eased, especially after the success of the vaccine programme. That would be a political catastrophe.”

Worth reading in full if you can stomach the bad news.

But there’s a glimmer of hope. According to MailOnline, a “battle royal” is about to commence as Tory MPs urge Boris to lift all restrictions by May 6th, when, according to Hancock, everyone over 50 will have been offered the vaccine.

The PM is under renewed pressure to step up the reopening of the country after the government accidentally revealed that the top nine groups – around 32million people – should be covered by the spring.

Ministers had previously refused to confirm a timetable, but the Cabinet Office cited it as a reason elections in England can take place on May 6th.

Senior Conservatives seized on the optimism to reiterate calls for a quick relaxation amid fears over the huge impact on education, the economy and other health issues. Mark Harper, who chairs the Tory MP lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said: “These top nine groups account for around 99% of those that have died from Covid and about 80% of hospital admissions.

“It will be almost impossible to justify having any restrictions in place at all by that point.”

Mr Johnson is set to unveil his road map out of lockdown towards the end of the month, with hopes the return of schools from March 8th can be followed by allowing mixing outdoors, with bars and restaurants freed up over the summer.

There was a barrage of other good news today, with the R number dipping below the critical level of one, research showing the AstraZeneca jab seems effective against the Kent variant, and the UK regulator saying it was not detecting significant side-effects. Another 19,114 people were reported as testing positive, down a third on last Friday, and the grim daily death toll was down 18 per cent week on week at 1,014.

Another 484,596 vaccine doses were administered in 24 hours, maintaining the impressive pace – with just under 11million people now inoculated.

A flurry of good news, but before you start popping the champagne, be warned: Neil Ferguson is on the warpath.

The competing pulls that Mr Johnson faces were underlined this afternoon as the Government published stark modelling from Prof Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College.

Considered by SAGE on January 14th, the paper assumed that there will be a phased easing of lockdown between March and July, and warned that a “rapid ramp-up” of vaccinations to “at least” 3 million doses a week is “critical to avoid exceeding national hospital capacity after the current wave”.

The Government is currently maintaining around that level. But the report added: “This would still lead to an additional 130,800 (103,200 – 167,600) deaths between now and June 2022.”

The Imperial team suggested that its findings meant “a more cautious approach to gradually lifting (lockdown measures) may need to be considered than the ones modelled in this report”.

But Professor Lockdown’s modelling appears to be based on the assumption that about 50,000 Covid patients would be in hospital by mid-February, before dropping towards the end of the month. In reality, the figures never exceeded 40,000 and have now dropped to about 30,000 already.

Worth reading in full.

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