THERE'S now a "less than 20 per cent chance" Boris Johnson will need to trigger new Covid restrictions due to falling cases, insiders say.
Whitehall officials are increasingly confident the PM won't need to reach for Plan B which would impose masks, working from home, and vaccine passports.
No 10 is said to have been buoyed by a sharp dip in new infections over the last week and predictions from scientists that the virus will burn out.
The initially sluggish booster jabs campaign has now also kicked into new gear with early evidence emerging it's cutting spread amongst the elderly.
That has led to a change of mood in Whitehall and increasing confidence costly restrictions can be avoided, according to the FT.
One well-placed source told the paper things are "now going in the right direction".
They added: "I reckon there’s a less than 20 per cent chance we’ll need to activate Plan B."
New cases in England fell to 32,280 yesterday, which is down 12 per cent on the same time last week.
Some scientists have predicted that the virus will burn itself out over the Autumn and infections could drop to as low as 5,000 a day by Christmas.
Downing St said the recent reduction is "encouraging" but cautioned it's still "too early" to draw firm conclusions about a trend.
The PM's spokesman said: "We would continue to urge the public to abide by the guidance as set out and those eligible to get booster doses.
"Prevalence remains relatively high even if it has dropped off to a certain extent.
"There isn't anything in the statistics currently to suggest a move to Plan B.
"But it is too early to draw conclusions from the recent few days' statistics which has shown drops in cases."
But one health service boss insisted ministers should go ahead and trigger new restrictions anyway.
NHS Confederation chief Matthew Taylor said: "It is better to take relatively easy precautions now than risk things getting worse.
“It’s not just about Covid but about several pressures combined and it is still only late October and has not yet got cold in most places."
Meanwhile the Oxford vaccine creator said people should stop bashing Britain over its high Covid rates.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said international comparisons are misleading because the UK does so much more testing than many countries.
He pointed out that the proportion of positive swabs is actually higher in Germany at the moment.
It comes with the PM reluctant to bring back masks and working from home and impose vaccine passports over the sky-high cost to businesses.
Boris has been warned triggering Plan B would cost the economy up to an eye-watering £18 billion over the winter.
And scientists say those measures might only make a marginal impact on the spread of the virus anyway.
Business minister Paul Scully said the Government is aware of the cost of "stop start" lockdowns and doesn't want to "stifle" the recovery.
Leaked papers drawn up officials at the Cabinet Office and Treasury predict Plan B would cost up to £3.6bn a month.
Whitehall mandarins are working on the "assumption" new restrictions would stay in place until March next year.
According to the documents, obtained by Politico, working from home would be cause the biggest hit to businesses.
Officials say telling people to stay away from offices would only have a moderately positive impact on cutting transmission.
They also warn the PM vaccine passports would make a negligible difference to stopping the virus whilst having a "high impact" on the economy.
The research says Covid papers would reduce overall transmission across the country by just 1-5 percent.
That's because though even they cut spread at mass events by 40-45 per cent, only 2-13% of new infections occur at such venues.
And mandarins warn imposing vaccine passports could have "wider impacts" and further deepen the UK's supply chain crisis.
The paper says they are “likely to have a positive impact in reducing transmission, although it is not possible to say accurately by how much".
'No sense' Plan B needed
Officials said reimposing a full lockdown, which the PM insists he's not considering, would have a much greater effect on squashing the virus.
A Government spokesman said: "We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month.
"Plan B ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
"The presumptions put forward do not reflect government policy. There is no planned five-month timeline."
Separate Whitehall research, seen by the Telegraph, calculates vaccine passports could cost the events sector up to £2.3bn over six months.
It warns bringing them in would simply push people from larger, well ventilated venues like football stadiums into crowded pubs.
Mr Scully insisted the PM still sees no plan to trigger Plan B as hospitalisations haven't risen sharply in line with cases.
He said: "We saw the concerns of businesses when we had the stop-start nature this time last year and we knew the cost to business of that.
"That's why we're taking every measure to make sure we don't choke down on the recovery, that we allow businesses to trade fully.
"We don't want to be stifling the recovery. So there's no sense that there's anything at the moment that's suggesting Plan B is needed."
Tory MP Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, added: "Plan B Covid restrictions aren’t cost-free.
"Shutting down bits of the economy means there’s less revenue to fund public services like the NHS."
No 10 defended the Plan B package and insisted it would make a difference to bringing down cases.
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