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New Health Secretary Sajid Javid has declared lifting lockdown rules will be his "absolute priority".

Matt Hancock's replacement signalled a shift away from legal restrictions while visiting the hospital where Boris Johnson almost died of Covid – and many more did not make it.

Speaking ahead of a 5pm update to MPs on lockdown rules, Mr Javid said: "I want to see the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible.

"And right here and now, that is my absolute priority.

"I want to see those restrictions lifted as soon as we can, as quickly as possible.

"In terms of the roadmap to that, you’ll have to wait for my statement to Parliament later today.

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"It’s going to be irreversible, there’s no going back, and that’s why we want to be careful during that process."

He also praised NHS staff, saying “I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they get everything they need” – but not promising to raise their pay rise above a measly planned 1%.

And he urged people to “please” go out and get a vaccine if they haven’t already in “the best vaccination programme in the world”.

While Mr Javid is not expected to end restrictions early on July 5 – the "break clause" point after they were extended by four weeks from June 21 – he could announce minor tweaks or signal a more certain end to lockdown in three weeks' time.

Mr Javid has kept his powder fairly dry in public statements on Covid since he quit in a row with No10 in February 2020.

He has only said "lockdown" once in the House of Commons, but when he did, he said: "The faster our economy can bounce back, the easier it will be to manage our debt in the future."

He added: "The Government have already spent more than £300 billion, every penny of that borrowed. While low interest rates have certainly helped, we cannot expect such a benign lending environment to last forever."

Shoppers on Oxford Street in central London, following the further easing of lockdown restrictions
(Image: PA)

While Matt Hancock was on the pro-lockdown side of the Cabinet table, reports today suggest Mr Javid is a "real lockdown sceptic".

Boris Johnson hopes step four will end all legal restrictions in England, most notably the "rule of six" on indoor social gatherings.

Step four could allow nightclubs and big events to reopen, axe mandatory mask rules in pubs and public transport, and allow pub-goers to stand at the bar.

But scientists have repeatedly warned some measures may be needed into the future to keep Covid at bay, even if they are not mandatory.

Step four was delayed from June 21 to July 19. Boris Johnson included a two-week break clause on July 5, but warned it was "unlikely" it would be used.

New Health Secretary Sajid Javid was visiting St Thomas' Hospital in London

Health bosses have urged new Health Secretary Sajid Javid to be a "voice of caution" in the Cabinet over the pressures the coronavirus pandemic is heaping on the NHS.

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Covid is the most pressing issue, the number of cases in hospital are rising.

"Covid is an issue and he needs to be a voice of caution in the Cabinet in terms of the potential pressures in the health service."