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COVID-19: Tory chairman Oliver Dowden ‘hopeful’ coronavirus restrictions can be lifted by end of January

Coronavirus restrictions in England could be lifted by the end of January, with the Tory party chairman saying he was “hopeful”, thanks to “encouraging signs”.

The current Plan B rules – which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks in some settings, the use of vaccine passports or negative lateral flow tests to enter some venues and working from home where possible – are due to be reviewed in 10 days.

Mr Dowden told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that the “signs are encouraging” that these restrictions will be able to be lifted at this point.

“It has always been my hope that we would have the Plan B restrictions for the shortest period possible,” the Conservative Party’s chairman said.

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“I’m under no doubt the kind of burdens this puts hospitality, wider business, schools and so on under, and I want us to get rid of those if we possibly can.

“The signs are encouraging but, clearly, we will wait to see the data ahead of that final decision.”

‘Promising data’ on COVID

Mr Dowden added that there is “promising data” on COVID infections and hospitalisations that give “pause for hope and optimism that we may be emerging from the worst of Omicron“.

His comments come after Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said infection levels in London, the South East and East of England are flattening off.

She said that while case numbers are still rising in more northern parts of the country, the growth rate there is slowing.

On Friday, the UK’s R (reproduction) number was estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.5, meaning that every 10 people infected with coronavirus will on average pass the disease to between 11 and 15 other people.

As it remains above 1, it means the virus is still growing rather than shrinking. But the daily growth in infections has fallen slightly.

On Saturday, the UK has recorded 81,713 COVID cases and 287 coronavirus-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period

PM carrying on ‘great for the Labour Party’

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told Sky News he could not be confident that the government were not looking to lift Plan B measures in a bid to shore up Mr Johnson’s leadership.

“If the prime minister or the health secretary from the Conservative Party is coming forward saying, ‘we’re going to remove Plan B measures’, I want to be absolutely confident they are making that decision in the national interest and not in the party interest, for party management reasons.

“I don’t have total confidence about that.”

Noting the Conservative Party’s declining approval ratings, Mr Streeting added: “I’ll make no bones about it – Boris Johnson carrying on is great for the Labour Party.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he hopes Plan B restrictions can be lifted “as soon as possible”.

Sir Keir told the BBC: “I hope those restrictions can be lifted as soon as possible, but I want them to be lifted because the medical science says they should be lifted, not simply because the prime minister is in a real mess and he’s desperately trying to get out of it.”

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