MPs to vote on new Covid lockdown for England
MPs are to vote on a new four-week coronavirus lockdown for England amid warnings the NHS will be overwhelmed with thousands more deaths unless action is taken.
With Labour backing the new restrictions, which are due to come into force on Thursday, the Government is expected comfortably to win Wednesday’s Commons vote.
Nevertheless Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing a revolt by some Tory backbenchers angry at the impact on civil liberties and the economic damage the measures will cause.
It is thought about 15 Conservative MPs could defy the whips and vote against the new controls – although the parliamentary arithmetic means their rebellion is likely to be largely symbolic.
Meanwhile police chiefs in the North West have warned they will come down hard on anyone who believed they could “flout” the restrictions.
In a joint open letter, the chief constables of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria said they would particularly target those organising music events or other large gatherings, and those who refuse to self-isolate.
“To the minority who feel the restrictions don’t apply to them, be prepared to face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement,” they said.
Ahead of the Commons vote, Mr Johnson warned of “fatalities running in the thousands” if no action was taken as cases across the country continued to rise.
At the same time he sought to offer hope, telling Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – was “only just above 1” and the new measures would bring it back below that threshold.
Unlike the last national lockdown in March, schools and colleges will remain open under the new controls, which are due to run to December 2.
However pubs and restaurants will be forced to close, except for takeaways and deliveries, as will gyms, entertainment venues and non-essential shops.
People will be banned from socialising with other households indoors, and only allowed to meet one other person from another household outdoors.
There has been criticism, however, over rules which mean children’s grassroots sports will be banned outside school settings.
Some Tories have also hit out at a ban on communal worship, which has meant church services marking Remembrance Sunday have had to be cancelled.
In the House of Lords, the senior peer Lord Cormack said it was “imbecilic” that veterans in their 90s would forced to stand outside in the cold and rain because they were not allowed into church.
However, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said the restrictions had to been seen as part of a “package of measures” to get the R rate below one.
“The danger in trying to pick apart each one, and when you get down to the ones towards a lower level where you might say, ‘Well, this doesn’t make much of an impact on its own’, is that you keep cutting things off and then you end up with a sub-optimal package,” he said.
The latest move comes amid conflicting data about the current spread of the virus, with the Covid Symptom Tracker app, run by King’s College London (KCL), suggesting a a slight drop in new infections across England, Wales and Scotland.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads the study, said it showed “a plateauing and slight fall in new cases”, with an R number of 1.0.
However data from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge put the R number above one in most regions, with an estimated 77,600 new infections a day across England.
It predicted that by mid-November the number of deaths each day was likely to be between 380 and 710.
The latest Government figures showed that a further 397 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 47,250, while there were a further 20,018 lab-confirmed cases of the disease.
Ministers hope that when the restrictions are lifted the Government will be able to return to a tiered series of localised restrictions for England, depending on the infection rate in a particular area.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has, however, said the lockdown will mean the hardest border between England and Wales for “several centuries at least”, with travel between the two countries banned without reasonable excuse.
The controls are set to come into force just as Wales prepares to end its two-and-a-half week “firebreak”, with schools, shops, pubs and restaurants set to reopen from Monday.