Under current Government guidelines, face masks must be worn in all enclosed public spaces unless exempt and people must stay two metres apart to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But insiders claim these rules will be in place long after the virus’ spread is curbed, with Downing Street considering keeping the measures in place until Autumn at the earliest.
A Whitehall source warned they believe social distancing in particular “will need to be in place for a long time to come”.
They said: “It has repercussions for the scale of any reopening. Restaurants, pubs and offices will all need to be Covid-secure.”
Ministers believe if rules on face masks and social distancing are kept in place, then other measures can be lifted.
A Government source added to The Times: “The more restrictions we have in place like social distancing rules the more we can do in terms of easing.”
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Another SAGE expert Sir Jeremy Farrar poured more cold water on hopes for an end to restrictions.
He said there needs to be less than 10,000 coronavirus cases in the UK before restrictions can start to be lifted, and added there were still 750,000 cases in England.
He said on BBC Radio 4: “I appreciate that businesses have to plan and everything else, but the data has to drive us, and in 2020 we lifted restrictions too quickly when the data would not really have allowed that and, frankly, as a result the transmission went back up in this country. (…)
“The transmission rate is incredibly high still and we’ve got to get it lower, we’ve got to get it – in my view – into the single thousands before we can possibly think of lifting restrictions.”
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MPs have expressed their anger at the draconian measures potentially being extended well beyond the summer.
Marcus Fysh, Tory MP for Yeovil, told the MailOnline: “There are people that are hanging on for dear life in economic terms at the moment, who need us to get back to normal.
“The whole point of vaccinating is so normal life can operate. If we don’t get back to that soon there has not been any point in the vaccinations.”
Steve Baker, Tory MP for Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, accused SAGE of “floating untested hypotheses in the media” which risked spreading “despair and despondency”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested February 22 will see a plan for an end to restrictions published, but Downing Street has warned this could be delayed should cases rise.
On Thursday, the UK recorded a further 13,013 cases and 1,001 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
In total, 3,998,655 cases and 115,529 deaths have been recorded in the UK.
The UK has rolled out 14,033,555 coronavirus vaccines, with 13,509,108 being first doses as of yesterday.