A “very tense” meeting of senior backbench Conservative MPs has heard concerns that the coronavirus lockdown could devastate the economy.

Members of the executive of the backbench 1922 committee voiced fears that unless the lockdown is eased within the next few weeks, the UK may no longer have much of a functioning economy.

A small number of members of the 1922 executive met in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon, with other dialling in.

Some members believe the lockdown needs to be relaxed after the first week of May.

“If we don’t do that we really will see thousands of businesses go under,” one 1922 member told BBC Newsnight.

As a first step, gardening centres and DIY stores should open immediately. they suggested.

BBC Newsnight understands that the government’s messaging on coronavirus was described by one 1922 member as “ludicrous”.

MPs expressed interest in the suggestion by the Oxford academic Carl Heneghan that the peak of deaths was on 8 April, indicating that a fall in infections came in mid-March, when initial social distancing and hygiene measures introduced before the lockdown on 23 March came into effect.

One 1922 member told BBC Newsnight: “Social distancing and hygiene measures were the key.

“We should follow the government guidance. If you can’t work at home then you can go to work if observe social distancing and hygiene. Focus on that rather than the ludicrous government messaging. That drowns out the actual guidance.”

The government messaging, displayed on billboards and at the daily No 10 press conference, says: “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.”

The 1922 executive heard that the government has achieved its main goal – the NHS has not been overwhelmed.

But that should not mean no change to the lockdown. There will continue to be infections, and the UK will have to learn to live with this virus for two or maybe three years, the meeting heard.

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