The Chancellor is eager to ease restrictions as soon as possible to breathe life back into a throttled economy devastated by the pandemic.
But he is said to be anxious that the nation’s top scientists are ‘moving the goalposts’ on the criteria for loosening measures, which could further delay the recovery.
Sources close to the Chancellor said he is privately worried that talk has strayed from protecting the NHS from being swamped to instead keeping infections down.
Rishi Sunak is growing increasingly concerned that Government scientific advisers are raising the bar for the point at which lockdown can be lifted, allies have claimed
A supporter last night 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.’
And they said Mr Sunak was adamant this third national squeeze must be the final lockdown and heralded it a ‘fat lady sings moment’ – the point at which it’s all over.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty yesterday said the country was past the peak of this second wave of Covid-19.
Cases and deaths continued to fall as Britain recorded another 19,202 infections and 1,322 fatalities, down 25 per cent week-on-week.
At a No10 press briefing Boris Johnson hailed the vaccination drive for passing the monumental 10million-jab milestone.
But Prof Whitty warned that the NHS will stay under strain until the six remaining priority groups, which include everyone over 50, are given their first dose.
He told the briefing: ‘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.’
Chris Whitty tonight hinted that draconian lockdown curbs will need to remain in place beyond March even if the four most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated — as No10 revealed Covid deaths and cases continued to fall, with 19,202 infections and 1,322 fatalities in the last 24 hours
There are still 35,000 patients in hospital with Covid — far higher than the 20,000 at the peak last spring.
Mr Johnson rowed in behind his top medical expert and warned that the level of infection is still ‘forbiddingly high’ and that it is too soon to relax current restrictions.
The Prime Minister promised that he will set out a ‘route map’ out of lockdown on February 22, when he said scientists will have a better idea of how effective the vaccines are.
Cabinet ‘hawks’ such as Mr Sunak have throughout the pandemic pushed for looser lockdowns to reduce the economic fallout of the health crisis.
An unprecedented amount of peacetime public spending to mitigate the effects of lockdown – such as furlough and bailouts – have plunged the nation’s finances deep into the red, with government borrowing reaching £270.8bn this financial year.
At next month’s Budget the Chancellor will set out his plan to balance the books which will likely see tax rises, although the Tory manifesto ruled out hikes to VAT, national insurance and income tax.
The Business and Transport departments are also believed to be worried that the criteria for relaxing restrictions is being upped.
Some Tory MPs have also expressed concern over the scientists’ cautious approach and are agitating for looser measures, particularly to reopen schools.
Chair of the powerful 1922 group of Conservative backbenchers Sir Graham Brady urged the PM to revise the March 8 date – the earliest children will go back to classrooms.