Beyond the Chancellor, the Telegraph has been told that others who would favour the move because of potential economic benefits are Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, and Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, provided it was borne out by the scientific evidence.
Mr Zahawi said the change, likely to be raised in Cabinet this week, would “certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others”, as he warned of rising teacher absences.
Speaking on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Mr Zahawi added: “I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five, six, seven, 10 years.”
In a further sign of the growing desire within the Government to start living with the virus, Mr Zahawi said exams would fully return to normal next year, with no pandemic mitigations.
‘Lateral flow tests will continue to be free’
An apparent split has emerged, however, over whether to limit free lateral flow tests to high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools.
Responding to reports from Whitehall sources that universal free tests could be axed within weeks, Mr Zahawi said it was “absolutely not where we are at”, pointing to the 425 million lateral flow kits ordered by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary. “They will continue to be free,” he said.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, warned the move would be “utterly wrongheaded”, while Labour said it would be the “wrong decision at the wrong time” while cases were so high.
Plan B restrictions are to be reviewed on January 26, and government sources believe work from home guidance could be rescinded and vaccination passports shelved.
However, there is less consensus over masks. “I would be surprised if we moved away from masks on transport. They will need to be in place if people are going back to work and getting on to public transport,” said one government source.
On Sunday night, in the wake of backbench frustration at the Prime Minister’s imposition of the winter Covid measures, a new poll of Tory members found that 46 per cent thought that Mr Sunak would make a better leader.
Mark Harper, the Tory chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, warned Mr Johnson he would face a massive revolt if he tried to extend the measures.
“I think there will be even more people against it,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think the intellectual argument now is even weaker.”