SOUTH Dorset MP Richard Drax insists the ‘flame of hope that we can go back to living needs to be kept alive’ - as Boris Johnson warned of a ‘cautious’ lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Mr Drax was one of 63 Tory MPs to sign a letter demanding all coronavirus restrictions are ended by May once those in the top nine priority groups have been vaccinated.

The MPs - all members of the Covid Recovery Group - have set out a list of demands including no more lockdowns, as the government smashed its target of administering 15.2 million jabs at the weekend.

The Prime Minister has already confirmed the government will not push for a zero Covid strategy, and suggested coronavirus is something we will have to learn to live with, as we do flu.

But frustrations have been growing as harsher restrictions are imposed on travel, despite the ‘astonishing’ vaccine rollout - and increasing numbers of MPs are insisting the government can no longer continue to ‘move the goalposts’ to keep the country in lockdown.

The Covid Recovery Group - led by former chief whip Mark Harper and former minister Steve Baker - wants all schools opened by March 8 and restaurants, pubs, and cafés to be open for the Easter holidays.

With leading scientists briefing Conservatives MPs that there should be a 98 per cent reduction in Covid-19 death rates by mid April after the successful rollout of the vaccine, MPs in the CRG have demanded that the government starts to lift restrictions.

The group’s letter to the Prime Minister reads: “Once all nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April, there is no justification for any legislative restrictions to remain.

“The vaccine gives us immunity from Covid but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions.”

Despite growing frustrations from the back benches, Mr Johnson held a press conference last night (Mon) in which he warned any easing of restrictions would be ‘cautious’ and said he hoped this national lockdown would be the last.

He said that while the Covid vaccination programme was continuing to ‘power past’ targets and was an ‘unprecedented national achievement’, he insisted ministers did not yet have enough data to ease the current restrictions, and that the threat from the virus remained ‘very real’.

"We want this lockdown to be the last. And we want progress to be cautious but also irreversible,” he added.

Next Monday he is due to unveil a road map setting out how the UK will return to normality, expected to start with the return of children to school on March 8.

But Mr Drax said that once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, there is ‘no excuse’ to keep the country locked down.

He said: “This cautious language that is now creeping into the narrative since the remarkable roll out of the vaccine is concerning.

“It doesn’t help that the goalposts keep changing. If we have vaccinated and protected the vulnerable, surely there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to keep the country locked down.

“I accept this is very difficult for the Prime Minister but you cannot dangle this carrot of a vaccine as the way out and then rip that away when it arrives.

“Will advisors on SAGE ever say that it is completely safe to unlock? It is their job to advise, and it is for politicians to make decisions based on the balance of the evidence.

“We must say we cannot go on like this.

“The virus is going to be here with us to stay and it is time for some pragmatism.

“There is no excuse for this to continue in a free, democratic country when the most vulnerable have been protected.

“This is a horrible illness for a very small percentage of the population, but once they have been vaccinated, we have to open up the country and let people carry on living. The consequences of staying locked down when the most vulnerable are protected is horrifying.

“Everything we still hear on a minute-to-minute basis is doom and gloom but we must say we will not go on like this. The flame of hope needs to be kept alive, and we need assurances we can go on living once the highest priority groups have had their vaccines.”