Chancellor Rishi Sunak 'concerned scientists are moving goalposts' on lifting lockdown

4 February 2021, 08:15 | Updated: 4 February 2021, 08:19

Rishi Sunak is growing increasingly concerned over what criteria needs to be met for lockdown to be lifted
Rishi Sunak is growing increasingly concerned over what criteria needs to be met for lockdown to be lifted. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Rishi Sunak is growing increasingly concerned over what criteria needs to be met for lockdown to be lifted, reports have claimed.

The Chancellor is said to think the ongoing third national lockdown is a "fat lady sings moment" - meaning this will be when the Government draws a line under repeated lockdowns for good.

An unnamed source told the Telegraph: "Rishi is concerned that the scientists have been moving the goalposts in recent weeks. It's no longer just about hospitalisations and protecting the NHS but cases and case numbers."

Those close to Mr Sunak have also claimed he is concerned talk surrounding the easing of lockdown has switched from just protecting the NHS to keeping infections down and ultimately making the UK as Covid-free as possible.

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The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the UK economy, after many areas in England have faced an almost total shutdown on outdoor shopping and hospitality.

The third national lockdown has seen restaurants and non-essential retail closed since the start of January - and it looks likely that will continue through to March as Covid hospital admissions remain stubbornly high.

In November it was announced the pandemic had cost the country £280 billion so far, but after now imposing the latest lockdown this figure will have risen.

Since bringing in more restrictive measures in the face of a number of new mutant, more contagious, Covid strains, the case numbers have plummeted.

But Boris Johnson yesterday warned that infections remain "alarmingly high" and the NHS is still under "huge pressure", despite promising vaccination data.

The Prime Minister praised the "colossal" effort of health workers who have helped vaccinate more than 10 million people against Covid-19 in the UK.

But he said: "Though today there are some signs of hope - the numbers of Covid patients in hospital are beginning to fall for the first time since the onset of this new wave - the level of infection is still alarmingly high.

"The wards of our NHS are under huge pressure with more than 32,000 Covid patients still in hospital."

Mr Johnson, addressing a Downing Street press conference, said vaccines appear to reduce death and serious illness from the main strains of coronavirus.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that while the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has "quite noticeably" reduced, it is still above that of the first peak in April last year.

"The number of people in hospital with Covid has now gone down from its peak, quite noticeably...

"But as the Prime Minister said, there are still a very large number of people in hospital, and more people than there were in the first peak in April last year.

"So this is still a very major problem, but it is one that is heading the right way."

Prof Whitty said the number of deaths would "stay high for quite some time".