James Forsyth

The gamble Boris feels he must take

The gamble Boris feels he must take
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Both Boris Johnson and Robert Jenrick have used their media appearances today to try and calm Tory MPs after yesterday’s announcement of the new Covid tiers. But the problem, as I say in the Times today, is that Tory MPs know these restrictions are unlikely to be eased anytime soon.

It would be surprising if the government decided to loosen things up before it has seen the effect Christmas relaxations will have on the case rate. We know that government advisers think that for every day of Christmas easing there will need to be five days of tighter restrictions. We can’t be sure yet if this analysis is correct. But it would be a surprise if places were moving down the tiers in January.

You might think that the Tory benches would be more prepared to live with these restrictions given we now know with some confidence how the crisis will end; the Oxford vaccine news means that restrictions should be lifted from the start of April as sufficient numbers should be immunised by then.

But there is a cynicism among Tory MPs about how Covid deadlines always seem to slip further into the distance. It won’t be until jabs start going into people’s arms that they will have any real confidence about how quickly the vaccine can get the country out of this hole.

Throughout this crisis, Downing Street has been driven by a dread that the NHS may be overwhelmed. This is both a medical and political fear. An overwhelmed healthcare system would have led to more deaths. But re-election would also be unlikely for a Tory government that allowed hospitals to be overrun; it would revive public concerns about whether the Tories can be trusted with the NHS. So, it is hard to imagine the government wanting to take any risks before February — which is normally the NHS’s most difficult month — has passed.