Infections and hospital Covid-19 cases need to drop tenfold before a significant easing of lockdown, meaning that it is unlikely to be safe before the end of May, NHS leaders say.

In a plea for Boris Johnson to ignore backbenchers pushing for a swift relaxation of restrictions, hospital bosses warned against a “very premature” return to normal in early spring.

The prime minister is due to set out a route out of lockdown on Monday, which he says will be “cautious but irreversible”. Schools are due to return on March 8 and Johnson is under pressure from the Covid Recovery Group of Tory backbenchers to promise a swift return to normality after that date.

However, Chris Hopson, chief executive of the hospitals’ group NHS



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