- Boris Johnson is under pressure from senior colleagues to start easing the coronavirus lockdown soon.
- The prime minister reportedly fears a “second peak” of infections if the government begins to lift the rules too early.
- But several of his Cabinet colleagues are said to believe that the economic risks of prolonging the lockdown for much longer outweigh the health risks of maintaining it.
- The UK government has extended the lockdown until at least May 7.
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Senior Conservatives are putting Prime Minister Boris Johnson under intense pressure to ease the lockdown amid concerns that lifting measures too late would result in thousands of firms collapsing and cause irreparable damage to the economy.
The government introduced the measures, which prevent most people from leaving their house unless they are exercising or buying essential items, on March 23 and extended them last week until at least May 7.
The prime minister, who is expected to return to work on Monday after recovering from the coronavirus, is said to be resistant too lifting measures too early and reportedly fears a “second peak” of infections if the government begins to ease the restrictions too soon.
The number of people dying in UK hospitals with coronavirus rose above 20,000 by Saturday, but Matt Hancock, the health minister, said on Wednesday that the UK was now at the “peak” of infections.
But several of his Cabinet colleagues are said to believe that the economic risks of prolonging the lockdown for much longer outweigh the health risks of maintaining it.
Three Cabinet ministers told the Sunday Times newspaper that they had serious concerns the lockdown could not be sustained for much longer.
The first Cabinet minister, who was not named, told the Sunday Times: “I don’t think the public will be able to take much more of this.”
The second, who also was not named, said: “I don’t know anyone in the cabinet who doesn’t want the lockdown eased as soon as possible. If the public are beginning to give up on it, then nobody wants to see it enforced through compulsion rather than consent.”
Ministers who are thought to favour lifting lockdown restrictions sooner rather than later include Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister.
It comes amid reports that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, met with police chiefs last week to discuss fines for breaking social distancing rules amid evidence that the public is beginning not to comply with them.
Many backbench Conservative MPs are also growingly concerned that the lockdown will be extended for too long. The influential 1922 committee of Conservative MPs met last week and were said to have expressed significant concern that there was no obvious route out of the lockdown.
Geoffrey Clifton Brown, treasurer of the 1922 committee, said the government needed to tell firms when they might be able to resume business.
“We’ve got to think about the number of businesses, particularly small businesses, that unless they get some form of indication when they might be able to get back into business, that they are actually likely to cease trading,” the MP told BBC’s Today program last week.
“We have to, on behalf of the businesses of this country, begin to give them a little bit of hope as to when we might be able to get back to normality.”
New data suggests the British public have begun to weary of the lockdown measures. Data showed on Friday at Downing Street’s daily briefing indicated that transport use was up 2% or 3% in the past week, with traffic levels last week at their highest level since the lockdown began, the Guardian reported.