England is being plunged into a new four-week COVID cordon, amid warnings that the country’s hospitals will be overwhelmed with thousands more deaths if nothing is done.
Members of Parliament (MPs) in Westminster voted on the new restrictions, with the opposition Labour Party supporting the Conservative government of Boris Johnson in introducing the strict new rules. The hospitality industry, which is already on its knees after months of restrictions and a curfew, will once again bear the brunt.
The passage of the vote means that from Thursday bars, restaurants, pubs, non-essential stores, salons and gyms will be closed and people will be forbidden to meet with people they do not live with. The public will have to stay at home, unless they have to travel for professional reasons, for childcare or for medical reasons to avoid domestic violence. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own restrictions.
It has not been easy for the Prime Minister to win support for what has been called the UK’s “Lockdown 2.0”. Johnson faced a revolt by a handful of backbenchers from the Tory who were angry at the impact of the dramatic new measures on civil liberties and the economy. In the run-up to the vote it was assumed that some 20 Conservative MPs would be able to vote against the leader’s new restrictions, which was seen as a largely symbolic protest. In total, 38 deputies voted against the new national lockdown.
Johnson has insisted that the restrictions end on December 2 because of widespread fears that they could be extended until Christmas or beyond if the coronavirus infection rate cannot be sufficiently reduced. His tone was less resolute when he was gripped by MPs during the Prime Minister’s weekly questions when he said an extension “depends on all of us doing our part now to reduce the R-value”.
He warned of “thousands of deaths” if no action is taken, as the country’s best scientists have already outlined how COVID is spreading faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario. Tory rebels – and several Labour MPs from the North West of England – said during a debate on the new cordoning off that England’s previous tiered system, introduced two weeks ago, had not been given a real chance.
Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May, said that evidence from Liverpool – which was placed in the highest tier and under the strictest rules – showed that “the cases are falling”. Another Tory rebel, former chief whip Mark Harper, said: “We acted too soon because we are beginning to see that the tier system works”.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said that the data presented to ministers to justify the lockdown had “disintegrated in the last few days”. He referred to data that predicted up to 4,000 COVID deaths per day over the winter, which was presented to the public on Saturday. Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, has since admitted that the prediction would probably not come true because the modeling was a worst-case scenario based on a situation where no additional measures were taken. A figure of about 1,000 deaths per day was “completely realistic”, without tougher measures, he said.
This is what MP Philip Davies told the Prime Minister: “Nobody who votes for this motion tonight is offering to sacrifice their own jobs to pursue this closure policy – of course not. They just expect millions of others in our country to sacrifice their jobs to pursue this policy. I never thought I would see the day when a so-called conservative minister would stand up and urge Parliament to continue sacrificing our most basic freedoms, let the economy collapse and destroy jobs – all to pursue a failed strategy”.
Johnson replied: “It pains me to call for such restrictions on life, freedom and the economy, but I have no doubt that these restrictions are the best and safest way for our country”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party would support the government, but added: “No one is voting for the regulations today with a heavy heart.