Boris told to disprove Cummings' 'shopping trolley' jibe by reopening

Prove Dominic Cummings wrong by opening up on June 21: Top Tory Mark Harper tells Boris Johnson he can disprove ex-aide’s claim his government is a wonky ‘shopping trolley’ by holding firm over lockdown easing

  • Harper used criticism levelled at PM by Dominic Cummings to urge consistency 
  • Ex-aide said PM was like ‘trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’
  • Mr Harper said Boris ‘will want to try very hard not to substantiate … accusation’

Boris Johnson was charged today with proving Dominic Cummings wrong and showing his Government is not an out-of-control ‘shopping trolley’  by ending lockdown as planned on June 21.

The former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper used the astonishing criticism levelled at the Prime Minister by his former top aide to put pressure on Mr Johnson not to delay the next easement.

It comes amid fears that the now dominant Indian variant could force a delay of several weeks from June 21, to determine its impact on hospitalisation and death rates

Tory lockdown hawks are demanding that the economy be freed, arguing that the vaccine rollout can take care of the new variant.

Last week Mr Cummings used a  seven-hour marathon appearance before MPs to accuse the PM of being like ‘a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’, changing his mind relentlessly on policies like quarantine.

Speaking to the website Politico today Mr Harper said: ‘I think the government will want to try very hard not to substantiate the Cummings accusation about shopping trolley decision-making.’

He argued that further delay would amount to ‘basically condemning a lot of people to not having a job or their business failing.’ 

 Speaking to the website Politico today Mr Harper said: ‘I think the government will want to try very hard not to substantiate the Cummings accusation about shopping trolley decision-making.’

Last week Mr Cummings used a seven-hour marathon appearance before MPs to accuse the PM of being like ‘a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other’, changing his mind relentlessly on policies like quarantine.

The former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper used the astonishing criticism levelled at the Prime Minister by his former top aide to put pressure on Mr Johnson not to delay the next easement

It came as one of the country’s most senior scientists warned that lockdowns are ‘awful’ and Britain must learn to live with Covid without restrictions.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the measures had had ‘very profound consequences’ on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs.

But he was hopeful that the Government would be able to open up on June 21 based on the data so far – but stressed the next few weeks would be ‘crucial.’

He pointed out that more than eight in ten adults would be vaccinated by then, adding that he was ‘very confident’ the jabs were working.

Sir Jeremy Farrar (pictured), director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the measures had had ‘very profound consequences’ on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs

The Department of Health revealed there were 5,274 positive tests in the past 24 hours, the highest number since March 26, when the UK was under much stricter lockdown rules

‘There is a danger of not opening up and this infection is now a human endemic infection. It’s not going away,’ he said. ‘Humanity will live with this virus now for ever. And there will be new variants. This year, next year, the year after, there will be new variants – and we will have to learn to cope with that.

‘Lockdowns are awful. They are a mark that you haven’t been able to control the virus in other ways. They have very profound consequences on mental health, on education, on job opportunities particularly affecting people on lower incomes.

‘Societies can’t stay in that mode for ever.’

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said that while there was nothing in the data to suggest the June 21 ending of lockdown could not go ahead, the numbers were ‘still ambiguous’.

But Sir Jeremy said he was hopeful the jabs had ‘separated’ the inevitable rise of infections which comes with easing restrictions and the subsequent increase in hospitalisations.

Asked whether he thought the country would be able to open up on June 21, he added: ‘If you really push me today, I would say I’m more optimistic because I think that the vaccines have been so incredibly successful.’

Meanwhile ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warned today the Indian ‘Delta’ variant could be 60 per cent more infectious than the Kent one as official data showed it’s also twice as likely to put patients in hospital.

A study published last night also suggested that the Pfizer vaccine works less well on the mutant Covid strain, with people given that jab producing fewer antibodies targeting the virus compared to other strains.

The senior SAGE modeller– dubbed Professor Lockdown for his terrifying death predictions in the first wave – said warned the emerging evidence about was not positive ‘in any respect’.

Public Health England for the first time last night confirmed that the new variant was dominant in the UK, replacing the Kent version. And Britain’s daily infections also breached 5,000 yesterday for the first time since the country was still in lockdown in late March, with cases of the Indian variant doubling every nine days.

Asked about whether the new evidence would put England’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ in jeopardy, Professor Ferguson said the data ‘is pointing in a more negative direction than it was last week.’

A Warwick University model submitted to SAGE last month warned that a variant 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent version, hospital admissions could surge to 10,000 per day or even double that  (Thick lines indicate the central estimate while the thin lines are possible upper limits known as confidence intervals)

Hospitalisations would be significantly lower if only next Monday’s step three was taken and the full relaxation postponed, with the 50 per cent increase leading to a peak of 6,000 daily admissions – up to a possible 14,000 – and 40 per cent to fewer than 3,500, with an upper limit of around 8,000 per day

Similar but less grim modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July – up to around 45,000 – compared to the current 845

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

This Public Health England graph shows how the number of cases of the Indian variant (dark green line) has exploded since it was first found, spreading faster than any other strain did over the same time after its discovery

He told Radio 4 Today: ‘It points towards the direction of being cautious. I think balancing, clearly, people’s desire – and there clearly is a built-up desire to get back to normal – against the potential risk is a very difficult judgment call.’

Ministers remain tight-lipped about whether social distancing will be allowed to end on June 21 as planned, but Matt Hancock said yesterday it was a ‘good sign’ that vaccinated people were making up only a minority of hospital admissions.

The Health Secretary said the government is keeping a close eye on daily case levels but stressed what ‘really matters’ is how many people end up in hospital and die from the disease and how well the jabs keep numbers down.

Covid hospital rates have started to rise in some regions in some regions in England, with patient numbers in the North West, where most Indian variant hotspots are concentrated, rising a quarter in the past fortnight.

But the number of patients in hospital in the region are still a far cry from the levels seen at the peak of the second wave – there are currently about 180 Covid sufferers in North West hospitals compared to 5,500 in January.

Grim models published by SAGE last month found that a variant that is 50 per cent or more transmissible than the Kent strain would overwhelm the NHS, leading to between 10,000 and 20,000 hospital admissions per day by the summer.

The panel also suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent or more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January.

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