BORIS Johnson has begun top secret planning for millions to meet loved ones this Easter – but cracked the whip amid lagging vaccine numbers.
The Sun has learnt Cabinet Office civil servants have begun building a detailed “unlocking framework” to gradually ease Covid restrictions area by area.
Although publicly Ministers say it’s too soon to say when freedoms can be restored, the PM has tasked No10 officials with building the plans with his eye on early April mingling joy for millions – even if for many its only outside.
Amid mounting backbench pressure to set out a route out of lockdown, a senior Government source told The Sun: “It’s way too soon to start talking about when, but the work is being done quietly on the how.”
But those freedoms is dependent on the vaccine rollout working and declining hospitalisation numbers.
Ministers believe the peak of the second wave has now passed, but a two week lag on people needing treatment means the NHS is still under immense stress.
Yesterday Mr Johnson ordered the boss of the NHS to speed up vaccinations to end the postcode lottery for the over 80s.
Some in their 90s are still waiting for the vaccine in the South and East of England while nearly all 80 year olds have been jabbed in parts of the North.
During a Cabinet presentation by Sir Simon Stevens on Tuesday morning, the PM urged the NHS England boss to “drive for the line” to close those gaps.
The PM’s plea came amid alarming daily figures showing the number of daily vaccinations slumped by nearly half over the weekend.
The number of daily vaccines being carried out has slumped by nearly half in the past four days. Medics in England carried out 170,900 jabs yesterday.
That is well below the 324,711 vaccinations dished out last Friday – the highest daily figure recorded so far.
And it is significantly lower than the number of jabs carried out last Wednesday and Thursday, which were around 250,000 and 275,000 respectively.
Just 155,848 vaccines were administered on Sunday – way down on the 277,209 carried out on Saturday.
That suggest there could be a ‘weekend effect’ – with figures dipping on a Sunday.
But the numbers will fuel worries that after a lightning quick start, the jabs programme is hitting major supply problems.
Ministers have repeatedly said that “limitations in supply” is the only reason the country isn’t going quicker.
Mr Johnson has vowed to continue to ramp up the vaccination programme to hit his target of jabbing 13.5m Brits by mid February.
And he has warned that the lockdown can only be lifted once the life-saving jab has gone into enough arms.
On Monday he said that there would be “gradual unwrapping” of restrictions with officials looking at a phased return to normality starting with schools opening.
It is understood current thinking would see kids go back to the classrooms but other stay at home restrictions kept in place – similar to November’s shutdown.
Mr Johnson is adamant to keep his tier system but it’s likely that most of the country would automatically go back into Tier 4 – the highest level of restrictions with pubs and shops still shut – to begin with.
Slowly areas may be allowed back into Tiers 3 and 2 that allow more activities and households to meet up outside, with no single “big bang moment” of unlocking.
Households are able to meet up outside in Tier 2 giving hope for Easter get togethers.
Yesterday top medic Jenny Harries confirmed the regional approach would return.
Giving evidence to the Commons Education Committee, she said: “It is highly likely that when we come out of this national lockdown we will not have consistent patterns of infection in our communities across the country.
“And therefore, as we had prior to the national lockdown, it may well be possible that we need to have some differential application.”
She added: “I think it’s likely that we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions.”
Yesterday leading Tory backbencher Mark Harper urged the PM to speed up the unlocking process, and set out a clear roadmap back from normality.
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Some Tory MPs want that process to begin at the beginning of March.
Mr Harper told The Sun: “Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected by 8 March – assuming the Government hits the 15 February deadline – the Government must start easing the restrictions.
“Ministers must come forward now with a plan for lifting restrictions. People must see light at the end of the tunnel and feel hope for the future, and businesses need to be able to plan our recovery as more and more of the vaccinations are rolled out to the most vulnerable groups.”
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