Johnson says he hopes shops will be able to re-open in time for Xmas
Boris Johnson has said he hopes shops and businesses will be able to re-open again in the run-up to Christmas as he urged MPs to back a new four-week coronavirus lockdown in England.
Ahead of a Commons vote on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said the Government was not seeking to impose the new controls “lightly”.
But he told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions that it was essential that they took action now to curb the spread of the disease.
The move came as the head of NHS England said the service was ready to “fire the starting gun” whenever a vaccine became available.
With Labour supporting the new restrictions, the Government is expected to win the vote comfortably. This would see the measures take effect from Thursday.
However, Mr Johnson is facing a backbench revolt by some Tory MPs deeply unhappy at the economic damage the new measures will cause, as well as the impact on civil liberties.
One rebel compared the Government’s arguments to Tony Blair’s “dodgy dossier” on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and warned any revolt of more then 20 MPs would be “very significant”.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson urged MPs to put aside “party political wrangling and point-scoring” and to come together to drive down the infection rate.
He insisted the new regulations would automatically expire on December 2 and said what happens after that would depend on reducing the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus.
“We will then, I hope very much, be able to get this country going again, to get businesses, to get shops open again in the run-up to Christmas,” he said.
“But that depends on us all doing our bit now to make sure that we get the R down.
“I’ve no doubt that we can, and that we’ll be able to go forward from December 2 with a very, very different approach – but, of course, it will be up to the House of Commons to decide, thereafter, what to do.”
Sir Keir Starmer confirmed that Labour would support the Government, but criticised the Prime Minister for resisting earlier calls for a new lockdown.
He said that it would be “madness” for ministers simply to return to the previous of tiered localised restrictions if the infection rate was still going up on December 2.
Earlier, Tory MP Peter Bone said that he had decided to vote against the lockdown following a briefing for MPs by Government scientists.
“I decided that what we were being fed was propaganda and not the full facts,” he told the PA news agency.
“It is a bit like the dodgy dossier that Blair produced for the Iraq War. They had decided what policy they wanted, therefore produced documents to try and boost their case. I think that is the wrong way to do it.”
Opening the Commons debate, the Prime Minister said he was not prepared to risk the potential collapse of the NHS in a second wave of the virus, which could exceed the first.
“When I look at what is happening now among some of our continental friends, and I see doctors who have tested positive being ordered to work on Covid wards and patients airlifted to hospital in some other countries simply to make space, I can reach only one conclusion,” he said.
“I’m not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people.”
Earlier, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said GPs will be put on standby from December should vaccine become available before Christmas.
However, he said the “expectation” was that any vaccination programme would begin in the new year – pending positive results from the vaccine clinical trials.
The head of the UK’s vaccines taskforce has said data from the vaccine trials at the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and Pfizer with BioNTech could be available this year.
But scientists behind some of the vaccine projects said that vaccines may not mean that people can immediately “get back to normal”.
Professor Andrew Pollard, who is the head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, told the Science and Technology Committee a vaccine “does not mean that we can all get back to normal immediately because it takes time to roll out vaccines, not everyone will take them, and we will still have people getting this virus”.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Imperial College London’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, said the world would be living with the consequences of coronavirus “for many years to come”.