Sajid Javid is looking to end lockdown “as soon as possible” amid concerns of the economic and social cost of Covid restrictions, it is claimed.
Lockdown-sceptic MPs hope Mr Javid breaks from the approach of his predecessor and pushes for a swift lifting of restrictions.
Mr Javid, who became Health Secretary following Matt Hancock’s resignation after he was pictured kissing an aide, says his “most immediate priority” is “to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible”.
Lockdown measures are expected to lift on July 19 and Mr Javid will update MPs on the latest Covid data later today in his first Commons statement since rejoining the Cabinet.
A source close to Mr Javid said: “He’ll be extremely reluctant to support an extension… He’ll be looking and seeking to justify ending it as soon as possible”, reports The Telegraph.
Mr Javid reportedly has had “concerns about the costs of it and the effects of it. Not just economically, but socially. Not just other types of health effects but things like domestic abuse and child abuse, and even extremism”.
While it is not expected he will bring what is left of lockdown to a close any earlier than July 19, he is reported to be confident the measures will not extend past that date.
Ministers have promised to give one week’s notice to any change of restrictions.
In a resurfaced interview from May last year with Sky News, he voiced his concerns over long lockdowns and how they would impact the economy.
By contrast, Mr Hancock had pressed for more stringent restrictions.
But Labour leader Keir Starmer said Mr Javid’s message over ending lockdown had created confusion, referencing a similar statement distributed later, in Mr Javid’s name, by his new department with the terminology of returning to normal “as soon and as quickly as possible” omitted.
Asked on Sunday whether Labour would support any change of approach under the new Health Secretary, leader Mr Starmer said: “What we’ve seen today already I’m afraid is confusion, because the incoming Health Secretary said he wants to open up as quickly as possible. The Government’s now rowed back on that.”
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association’s council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Mr Javid would need to be “honest” with the public over tackling a backlog of care and negotiate the resources that the NHS needs.
Mr Javid’s return to the top tier of politics after 16 months came after pressure over Mr Hancock’s kiss with aide Gina Coladangelo, revealed in footage leaked from inside his ministerial office, saw the West Suffolk MP, hand in his resignation to Boris Johnson on Saturday.