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    Rebel group of Tory MPs determined to oppose any extension of Covid lockdown grows to 70 with 25 more pondering whether to join

    • Covid Recovery Group has formed to oppose a third national lockdown after current one ends in December
    • The group initially formed with 50 Tory MPs, but is said to have grown to 70, with 25 more considering joining 
    • It comes amid fears Britons could face more confusion when current lockdown comes to an end in December
    • Government is now looking again at Tier system and treating regions together rather than cities individually
    • New tougher Tier 4 for some regions that struggle to manage infection rates has been mooted for weeks

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    A rebel group of Tory MPs determined to oppose any extension to Covid lockdown restrictions has swelled to 70, with dozens more considering joining.

    The backbench Tory MPs have formed The Covid Recovery Group to oppose a third national lockdown after the current one ends in December.

    The anti-lockdown alliance, which will have Mark Harper, a former government chief whip, as chairman and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker as deputy last night grew to 70 Conservative MPs – having originally started with 50.

    Another 25 Tory politicians are said to be considering signing up to the group, which already has its own Whatsapp chat. 

    They plan to oppose any return to a national shutdown of the economy, which they claim does more damage to people’s lives than the virus itself.

    Mr Harper yesterday won an assurance from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that he will provide an assessment of the economic impact of the current national lockdown in England and any future restrictions. 

    It comes as Boris Johnson warned that a vaccine will not deliver a ‘knockout blow’ to coronavirus as Tories insisted he must not use the prospect of jabs to keep the country in lockdown longer.

    At a bad-tempered PMQs session, Mr Johnson again welcomed the news that Pfizer‘s vaccine had been 90 per cent effective in early trials.

    But he gave a stern message to the public that they should not be expecting an early end to restrictions, despite claims it could start being rolled out by Christmas. 

    He said the ‘best way to get this country back on its feet’ was to ‘continue on the path that we are, driving the virus down’.

    Ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker will be deputy last of the group, which last night grew to 70 Conservative MPs - having originally started with 50.

    The anti-lockdown alliance, which will have Mark Harper (pictured left), a former government chief whip, as chairman and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker (pictured right) as deputy, grew to 70 Conservative MPs last night – having originally started with 50

    Mr Harper yesterday won an assurance from Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) that he will provide an assessment of the economic impact of the current national lockdown in England and any future restrictions

    Mr Harper yesterday won an assurance from Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) that he will provide an assessment of the economic impact of the current national lockdown in England and any future restrictions

    The premier said science had given the country ‘two big boxing gloves’ via a possible vaccine and mass testing, but added: ‘Neither of them is capable of delivering a knock out blow on its own. 

    The pointed comments came amid signs whole regions of England could be kept under brutal restrictions after the blanket lockdown ends on December 2. 

    The country is due to return to the ‘Tiered’ system next month, with variations depending on the level of outbreaks locally. But ministers are considering ‘simplifying’ the arrangement so wider areas are covered by the same curbs. That means rather than individual ‘hotspot’ cities or towns being placed in a Tier, entire regions will face the same treatment.  

    There is also the prospect of a fourth Tier being added, which would be essentially the same as the full lockdown imposed currently.

    But the move will fuel alarm that the constantly shifting rules are confusing the public and undermining trust in the government’s response. And Boris Johnson is under fresh pressure from angry Tory MPs who are demanding that draconian restrictions are abandoned because they are destroying the economy, risking more deaths from poverty and other diseases that are going untreated. 

    At least 50 backbenchers – crucially including 1922 committee chair Sir Graham Brady – have signed up to a new group headed by former chief whip Mark Harper, warning that Mr Johnson must not use the prospect of a vaccine arriving early next year to delay decisions on loosening lockdown. 

    On another high-octane day of developments in the coroanvirus crisis:

    • Britain’s official coronavirus death toll passed the grim milestone of 50,000 today after health chiefs announced another 595 victims in the highest daily count since May; 
    • England’s deputy chief medical officer has said he would be ‘at the front of the queue’ to take Pfizer’s breakthrough coronavirus vaccine if he were eligible in a bid to reassure Brits about its safety;
    • Economists have raised hopes UK plc could return to pre-pandemic levels within six months after the bombshell news about a vaccine;
    • University students will be offered Covid tests after lockdown ends on December 2 before having a six-day window to travel home for Christmas under the government’s evacuation-style plan;
    • Government spending on anti-coronavirus measures has surpassed an eye-watering third of a trillion pounds since the pandemic began, according to analysis by MailOnline. 
    At PMQs today Boris Johnson gave a stern message to the public that they should not be expecting an early end to coronavirus restrictions, despite claims a vaccine could start being rolled out by Christmas

    At PMQs today Boris Johnson gave a stern message to the public that they should not be expecting an early end to coronavirus restrictions, despite claims a vaccine could start being rolled out by Christmas

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured in Westminster today) has that regions will not necessarily emerge from the current lockdown into the same Tier they were in last month

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured in Westminster today) has that regions will not necessarily emerge from the current lockdown into the same Tier they were in last month

    Tory group vows to fight lockdown 

    Fifty Tory MPs have joined a new anti-lockdown group vowing to fight against any new coronavirus lockdown.

    The ‘Covid Recovery Group’ will aim to fight against any Government plan to extend current coronavirus lockdown restrictions after the beginning of next month.

    England is currently in a second national lockdown until December 2 – with pubs and bars closed and all but essential travel banned.

    Boris Johnson has vowed that the restrictions will be lifted and replaced with regional measures on December 2.

    But if Mr Johnson does pursue extended measures or a third national lockdown, could now face a fight from the new Tory anti-lockdown group.

    The ‘steering group’ of the new body is:

    Mark Harper MP 

    Steve Baker MP 

    Adam Afriyie MP

    Harriett Baldwin MP

    Sir Graham Brady MP

    Nus Ghani MP

    Chris Green MP

    Philip Hollobone MP

    Dr Ben Spencer MP

    Baroness Philippa Stroud

    Sir Robert Syms MP

    William Wragg MP. 

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    Currently, Tier 1 restrictions are described as ‘medium risk’ with Tier 2 ‘high’ and Tier 3 ‘very high’.

    Under Tier 3 rules restaurants can open, but only until 10pm and pubs and bars must close unless they also operate as a restaurant.

    This definition extends to pubs which sell ‘substantial’ meals, which like restaurants will be allowed to stay open but only serve alcohol to people eating a meal.

    Locals are advised only to leave their areas for essential travel such as work, education or health, and must return before the end of the day.

    Overnight stays by those from outside of these ‘high risk’ areas are also be banned. Households are not be allowed to mix either indoors or outdoors.      

    Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said that regions would not necessarily emerge from the current lockdown into the same tier they were in last month. 

    And one source told the Telegraph: ‘We will return to a regionalised approach after the lockdown, and the Government has not said explicitly at this point that the tiers will be exactly the same.

    ‘People could enter lower tiers if they obey the lockdown rules and the R rate falls. The Government will set out what the tiered system looks like a week before lockdown ends on December 2.’  

    Another source said there was a ‘high probability’ that the Government would move from putting individual cities or regions into tiers to a new system of region-wide restrictions. 

    Despite frustration and confusion over the constantly evolving rules, the move would be billed as an attempt to ‘simplify the system’.

    Ministers have warned it is increasingly likely that an extra tier will be introduced to fight infection levels – which would take the system in England closer to that in Scotland.   

    Some data last week suggested that the second wave may have levelled off or even peaked before the lockdown was introduced last Thursday, piling pressure on Mr Johnson to stick with his commitment to scrap the blanket restrictions on December 2.

    The bombshell news this week that Pfizer’s vaccine has proved 90 per cent effective in initial trials has sparked hope that life could return to normality by next Spring.

    But Mr Johnson and senior medics have been striking a very cautious tone, warning ‘slackening our resolve’ now would be the ‘biggest mistake’. 

    Mr Harper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the new Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs would focus on the harm to the economy as well as the direct public health effects of coronavirus.

    ‘It was really positive news this week about a vaccine, but it is clear that it’s going to take a number of months – assuming it all goes well – before that is successfully rolled out across the population,’ he said.

    ‘So there are some really big decisions to take, in the months, not just for the government but for Parliament.’ 

    Mr Harper said ‘lockdowns come with great costs’, complaining that the government had not provided any estimate of the economic impact before the vote on the lockdown last week – in which 34 Tories rebelled and many more abstained.

    ‘The important thing is the PM has been very clear, the current restrictions end on December 2, he wants to return back to the tiered system when restrictions were linked to the prevalence of the virus,’ Mr Harper said.

    ‘That’s what we want to do as well, and over the coming months move back to a more sustainable way of living.’ 

    WHAT ARE THE RULES IN DIFFERENT TIERS OF LOCKDOWN?

    TIER ONE 

    Tier one restrictions mirror those in place across England before the latest countrywide lockdown was announced.

    These include the rule of six, a 10pm curfew, group sport to be played outdoors only and a maximum of 15 guests at wedding ceremonies.  

    TIER TWO 

    Tier two restrictions mean people are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting

    Two households may be allowed to meet in a private garden and public outdoor spaces, as long as the rule of six and social distancing are followed.

    Tradespeople – such as plumbers and electricians – can continue to go into a household for work. 

    TIER THREE 

    Restaurants can open, but only until 10pm. 

    Pubs and bars will be ordered to close unless they also operate as a restaurant.

    This definition extends to pubs which sell ‘substantial’ meals, which like restaurants will be allowed to stay open but only serve alcohol to people eating a meal.

    Locals are advised only to leave their areas for essential travel such as work, education or health, and must return before the end of the day.

    Overnight stays by those from outside of these ‘high risk’ areas are also be banned. Households are not be allowed to mix either indoors or outdoors.      

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    Former minister Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the group, said: ‘We must find a more sustainable way of leading our lives until a vaccine is rolled out, rather than throwing our prosperity away by shutting down and destroying our economy, and overlooking the untold health consequences caused by lockdowns and restrictions.’ 

    At PMQs, Tory MP for Rother Valley Alexander Stafford asked if family and friends would be able to celebrate Christmas ‘as we normally do’.

    Mr Johnson said: ‘The more intensively we together follow the rules, the more we follow the guidance in this tough period leading up to December 2, the bigger the chance collectively we will have of as normal a Christmas as possible and get things open in time for Christmas as well.’

    Conservative MP Julian Sturdy asked if his York Outer constituency would be able to move into Tier 1 at the end of England’s nationwide lockdown.

    Mr Johnson replied: ‘I urge York Council and councils across the land to take up this offer of mass lateral flow testing. I think it’s a very, very exciting opportunity.

    ‘It’s one of the boxing gloves we hope to wield to pummel this disease into submission. The other is the prospect of vaccine, and that is what we will do continuously throughout the weeks and months ahead.

    ‘But I must stress the way to get ourselves in the best position to achieve that is to make these current restrictions work so that we can come out well back into the tiers on December 2.’

    Speaking during a visit to a Tesco distribution centre in Erith, south-east London, Mr Johnson said: ‘Times are difficult but what we have got to do is get through this current period of tough autumn measures through to December 2 then hopefully – hopefully – I think we’ll have done the job of getting the R down and people can have a Christmas that’s as normal as possible for as many people as possible, and get the shops open as well.’ 

    Downing Street said it was the Government’s ‘intention’ to go back to a regionalised system of restrictions when the current national lockdown in England ends.

    The PM’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: ‘When the current national measures come to an end on December 2 we will be returning to a regional tiered approach.

    ‘And we’re committed to setting out our proposals for what that system will look like the week before the current regulations lapse on December 2, so MPs will have the time to consider them and to vote upon them.

    ‘But in the meantime the PM continues to urge everyone to come together and follow the rules which we have in place to help to get the R rate down.’

    Asked to confirm that the current lockdown restrictions in England would not be extended, the spokesman said: ‘It is a statement of fact that the regulations lapse on December 2 and we’re committed to giving MPs a vote on the system which will replace them.

    ‘And as we’ve indicated a number of times, it is the intention to go back to a regionalised approach.’

    Death toll passes 50,000 after highest daily count since May 

    Britain’s official coronavirus death toll passed the grim milestone of 50,000 today after health chiefs announced another 595 victims in the highest daily count since May.

    Boris Johnson labelled every death a tragedy, saying ‘we mourn everybody’s who’s gone’. And he warned the UK was ‘not out of the woods yet’. Officials say Covid fatalities will continue to rise for ‘several weeks’ because of the time it takes for infected patients to become severely ill.

    But despite the gloomy warnings of thousands more deaths, daily cases have dropped again. Another 22,950 new infections were recorded today — down 8.8 per cent on the 25,177 that were registered last Wednesday.

    The figures come after a catalogue of data has suggested that lockdown may have been a rash move and that the country’s outbreak appeared to be slowing thanks to the three-tier local lockdown system.

    Department of Health figures show the UK’s official death toll now stands at 50,365, with today’s figure the highest recorded in a single day since May 12.

     

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    Responding to news that the UK’s Covid-19 death toll had topped 50,000, Mr Johnson said: ‘Every death is a tragedy and we mourn everybody’s who’s gone. And our feelings are with their families and friends as well.

    ‘It is a global pandemic whose effects, whose treatments, whose implications for the economy – you know all those have been becoming clearer and clearer as the months have gone on.

    ‘I do think we’ve got now to a different phase, in the way that we treat it and after these autumn measures – which I hope people will stick to really, really rigidly as far as they possibly can – we’re very much hoping two things will start to come to our aid.

    ‘Number one the mass testing and the other thing is now the realistic prospect of a vaccine, so you have two boxing gloves to pummel the disease in the weeks and months that follow.’

    He added: ‘But I’ve got to stress that we’re not out of the woods yet, it does still require everybody to follow the guidance, to suppress the disease in the way that we all understand.’

    Discussing the death figures, Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said: ‘Sadly the upward trend is likely to continue and it will be several weeks before any impact of the current measures – and the sacrifices we are all making – is seen and is reflected in the data.

    ‘By limiting contact with others, you are helping to stop the spread of the virus. This will lead to fewer infections and help to save lives. Together we can bring the virus under control.’

    The PM’s spokesman said Mr Johnson would be happy to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

    The spokesman said: ‘Any vaccines which are determined for use will undergo a vigorous series of safety checks, they will be absolutely safe for the public to use.

    ‘And the Prime Minister would therefore, of course, be very happy to take the vaccine himself.’

    Senior MPs said the Prime Minister — who it is claimed believes he was bounced into the extreme curbs — should not keep the restrictions in place for the full month just to ‘maximise the pain’, amid promising signs the surge is already levelling out.

    Mr Johnson reluctantly signed off the measures for England last weekend after being warned by Government scientists that deaths could rise to 4,000 a day – four times the peak seen in April. 

    The decision was rushed out with minimal Cabinet consultation after news of the warning, and the PM’s reaction to it, was leaked to news organisations, including the Daily Mail.

    However, the 4,000-a-day figure has since been widely discredited and Government scientists have been forced to correct other dire warnings used to inform the lockdown decision.

    Despite this, the PM has so far officially refused to rule out extending the current lockdown, which ends on December 2. 

    Yesterday new data emerged suggesting that Tier Three restrictions were helping to beat the virus in the North West. 

    Figures shows that coronavirus hospital admissions in the North West peaked ten days before lockdown was imposed.

    Numbers from the Department of Health’s own coronavirus dashboard reveal daily average Covid-19 admissions hit 308.4 on October 26 but have been dropping every day since.

    They had fallen 13 per cent to 268.4 by November 4, the day before England’s second lockdown was introduced. No fresher data has yet been released.

    And in Tier Two London hospitalisations appeared to peak seven days before lockdown, dropping eight per cent from 127.4 to 117.7 in the seven-day spell up to November 4. 

    The graph, alongside several other doomsday predictions, reportedly led the Prime Minister to feel bounced into the decision of imposing another lockdown, according to a cabinet ally. 

    Tier Three restrictions were imposed in Liverpool on October 14, in Lancashire on October 17, and in Greater Manchester on October 23. 

    Other areas, such as Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire later followed, as local authorities aimed to force down infections to stop hospitals being overwhelmed. 

    The then-harshest measures, which around 10million people were living under, saw pubs and bars shuttered in all their local authorities, and bans in place on mixing between households.

    Average Covid-19 hospitalisations per day peaked in the North West on October 26, and in London on October 29

    Average Covid-19 hospitalisations per day peaked in the North West on October 26, and in London on October 29

    Bristol is the only place in England's top 50 coronavirus hotspots in the South. The southwest city, home to 463,400 people, diagnosed 410 cases per 100,000 in the week to November 6, almost half that of Oldham, which takes the top spot with 779 cases per 100,000

    Bristol is the only place in England’s top 50 coronavirus hotspots in the South. The southwest city, home to 463,400 people, diagnosed 410 cases per 100,000 in the week to November 6, almost half that of Oldham, which takes the top spot with 779 cases per 100,000

    The reduction in social contact saw infections starting to fall across all local authorities in Liverpool two weeks after they came into force, and in most areas of Lancashire a few days later.

    A drop in hospitalisations would lag behind cases, officials said, because it takes longer for someone who is infected to develop symptoms severe enough for them to be hospitalised.

    This meant they began to fall a week after infections, which experts said was due to the longer period of time taken for someone to become hospitalised.  

    The figures also reveal daily admissions never reached the same level as in the first wave in the North West, when they got up to 412.9 a day on April 4.

    But the total number of Covid-19 patients in hospital across the region rose above the numbers in the second wave on November 4, when it reached 2,793 a day.

    Experts said a lot of these patients will have just been tested and added to these numbers, as opposed to being admitted to wards after catching the disease in the community.

    Around 18 per cent of hospital patients with Covid-19 caught it while they were in hospital during October, NHS figures show. This is up from nine per cent a month ago.  

    Across England, hospitalisations had also begun to slow down in the week before the second national lockdown, suggesting the patchwork of extra measures put into place was helping to drive down infections.

    Average daily hospitalisations rose by 30 per cent between October 21 and 28, from 946.7 to 1,226.9 a day, the Government’s own data shows.

    But in the following week to November 4 they only rose by six per cent, to 1,298, in a sign hospitalisations were slowing.

    The biggest rises were seen in the South East and South West, by 31 per cent to 112.9 a day and by 26 per cent to 96.1 a day, respectively, in the most recent week of data. 

    But experts pointed out that these numbers were below the levels in the north, which suggested stricter measures to curb the spread of coronavirus were needed — rather than a second lockdown.

    Mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across 66 local authorities, the Health Secretary has said

    Mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across 66 local authorities, the Health Secretary has said

    Mr Johnson has said England will return to the Three-Tier system after lockdown.

    It comes as Britain recorded another 532 more Covid-19 deaths yesterday, the highest daily total since May.  

    It brings the UK total to 49,770 and is the highest figure reported in a single day since May 12.

    However, cases are just two per cent higher than they were last week, with 20,412 cases confirmed on Tuesday. 

    Last Tuesday, 20,018 positive cases of the virus were recorded.  

    It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 1,233,775. 

    Separate Government figures show there were 13,617 Covid-19 patients in hospital in England on Sunday, up from 11,557 a week ago, while 1,268 were in ventilation beds as of Monday, up from 1,075 a week ago.

    A total of 1,366 patients with confirmed Covid-19 were admitted to hospitals in England on Friday, the latest figure available, compared with 1,350 a week earlier.

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