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Yesterday, Matt Hancock announced in the Commons that all of England is to be put into Tiers Three or Four. The response from the Conservative backbenches confirmed that the campaign for a Swedish-style alternative policy is over.
We gave three reasons for its collapse when the tiers were last adjusted. First, the effects of the Covid “second wave” in Sweden itself (where a commission has now criticised the government’s record on protecting care homes). Second, the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine. Third, the rise of a Covid-19 variant that is more easily transmissible.
The effects of the last are feeding their way through into hospital admissions: the number of Covid patients in hospital throughout the UK is now at near-peak levels. Bernard Jenkin reported that Essex has declared a major incident; Cheryl Gillan said that the NHS in Buckinghamshire in under severe pressure (and a major incident has also been announced there).
Conservative MPs are now pivoting to ask the obvious question: when will the roll-out of vaccines – the Health Secretary made the most of the Oxford version gaining permission for use – allow restrictions to be lifted? Mark Harper, who co-chairs the Covid Recovery Group, zeroed in on the question.
Hancock’s answer is that all depends on the speed of manufacture. It was all much the same story when Gavin Williamson made his statement on schools. If the vaccines had not come galloping over the hill, there would surely have been turbulence on the backbenches. Instead, Tory MPs concentrated their questions on when these will be available in schools.
No fewer than seven went down this line. One, Rob Butler, asked in relation to keeping primary schools open whether the Government has “fully considered the safety of pupils and staff”. That’s a measure of the shift of mood on the Tory backbenches. It is only three months since Boris Johnson received a briefing from Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist on how his country’s strategy was working.