PM to axe intrusive Covid laws thanks to success of vaccine

Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines approved for booster scheme

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The Government also has a scheme in place to begin vaccine boosters this month, subject to approval from experts. This will increase immunity for many over winter and should also prevent “unsustainable pressure on the NHS”. A No 10 insider said the intention is that there will be no more lockdowns but Mr Johnson has been warned by critics in his own party that his pledges do not go far enough.

They are worried that there are no changes to the Public Health Act, which provided the basis for many of the tough restrictions over the past 18 months.

Other experts warned that as long as the NHS is stretched, lockdowns remain a possibility.

Speaking ahead of his announcement on the Coronavirus Act, Mr Johnson said: “Thanks to the efforts of the public, the NHS and our phenomenal vaccination programme, we reached Step 4 in our roadmap and life has returned to a sense of normality.

“These extraordinary times required necessary but intrusive measures. But I’m determined to get rid of any powers we no longer need because of our vaccine defences. I will set out the next phase in our response shortly.”

The powers expected to be repealed include those allowing the closing down of the economy, the imposing of restrictions on events and gatherings, the power to temporarily close or restrict access to schools, and powers to detain infectious people.

There will no longer be any powers to limit how big a group people can gather in. The same review will also cancel the temporary increase in Universal Credit of £20, measures which allowed council meetings to happen virtually, special measures for magistrates’ courts and the ability to detain infectious people.

However, the Government last night included a caveat that there can be “no guarantee” of no more lockdowns, because most of the powers used to impose restrictions exist in the Public Health Act.

The source added: “The intention is, however, that there are no more lockdowns.”

But Tory MPs who have been critical of the Government’s willingness to shut down the economy have said Mr Johnson needs to step up his reforms.

In February, more than 60 of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs demanded an update to the Public Health Act which would ensure that the powers to lockdown would need a parliamentary vote. One of the signatories, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, which represents Conservative backbenchers, said: “It’s welcome that the Gov- ernment is scrapping these draconian regulations”.

“But we need a proper review of the powers available to them, so that constraints can be placed on ministers when they seek to interfere in fundamental freedoms, such as our right to see our families.”

New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne added: “This is by no means sufficient. Overwhelmingly, the restraints on our liberty over the past 18 months have arisen from powers under the Public Health Act. “

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates said she welcomed the repeal of measures but added: “We need to reform the Public Health Act. “

Oxford University professor Carl Heneghan said lockdowns remain a possibility because winter will stretch the NHS”.

He said: “Many people have claimed many things throughout this pandemic but they have been often overturned.

“At some point the Government’s will have to move on from Covid and trust the people to make their own decisions.

“However, the NHS capacity issue is of concern as we go into winter with circulating viruses – and nothing has been done to solve this persistent problem which has been an issue for the past 20 years.

“Lockdowns are still a reality unless we prepare for winter and its impact.”

Mr Johnson is also facing opposition on two other fronts this week – plans for vaccine passports and the probable green light to jab the over-12s.

Ms Cates will also hold a debate in Parliament on Tuesday on the child vaccination issue.

The former teacher said: “I am very concerned about the moral, ethical and safety implications of rejecting the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations recommendation on the mass vaccination of healthy children – and it is vital that MPs are able to raise these issues in Parliament.”

The JCVI this month ruled that the “margin of benefit” from getting a vaccine is “too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12-15 year-olds”.

However, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, is widely expected to give the go-ahead this week.

This has led to concerns that young people will feel pressured to get a jab. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last week that if agreement cannot be reached between parents and children, then the child’s decision “will prevail”.

Yesterday there were 156 deaths reported and 29,547 new cases. Last Saturday there were 120 deaths and 37,179 infections.

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