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Boris Johnson will insist there is “no alternative” to a nationwide lockdown as he addresses the House of Commons on Monday amid mounting fury among Tory MPs, after ministers conceded the new “stay at home” order could be extended beyond 2 December.
The prime minister will tell parliament that without the draconian new measures, which will come into force across England on Thursday, deaths from coronavirus over the winter could be “twice as bad or even worse” than in the first wave.
He will promise the government will “seek to ease” restrictions when the measures are due to expire. However, cabinet minister Michael Gove made clear on Sunday they could be left in place if they have not yet brought the infection rate down sufficiently.
Gove said: “We’ve got this four-week period, during which we’re going to review progress, but of course we’ll always be driven by the data. We will always take a decision in the national interest, based on evidence.”
Pressed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News about whether that meant the measures could be extended, he said “yes”.
Sage member Jeremy Farrar, the chair of the Wellcome Trust, echoed Gove’s caution, saying it was important not to be too “fixed” about the 2 December end date.
If the infection rate, hospital admissions and other key metrics had not fallen far enough by then, he said, the measures should be extended. “Much better to do that than remove these restrictions and then have to impose even more draconian restrictions over Christmas or soon into the new year,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
The latest official data showed that on Sunday, 23,254 people were tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK. A further 162 people had died within 28 days of a positive test.
Johnson will set out his plan to parliament after a chaotic weekend that saw his dramatic announcement brought forward after it was leaked on Friday evening, causing shock among his own backbenchers.
Amid forecasts that the economy could take a hit of up to 10% as a result of the new curbs, the Bank of England is poised to announce a fresh cash injection into the economy later this week.
The City had been expecting a resumption of Threadneedle Street’s quantitative easing programme even before the new lockdown was announced, but now sees a fresh support package as inevitable.
The Treasury plans to announce more generous support for the self-employed following the continuation of the furlough scheme for employees, but no further measures from the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, are currently planned.
Gerard Lyons, who was chief economic adviser to Johnson when he was mayor of London, said the lockdown was “terrible news” for the economy, which he said could shrink by up to 10%.
“This lockdown will ensure that a large section of the economy will be in a moribund state and will require huge new stimulus and help,” Lyons said.
Sunak had previously resisted a nationwide shutdown amid fears about its economic cost, but signed up to the plan in the face of the risk of hospitals being overwhelmed within weeks without action.
“If you have an NHS that’s not going to function, people are not going to be running off shopping, they’re going to stay at home. The economy gets crumpled anyway – and people lose faith in government,” said a Whitehall source.
Sunak’s abrupt decision to extend the furlough scheme, which pays 80% of workers’ wages in affected businesses, was met with fury among northern mayors, who repeatedly urged him to take the same approach when cities including Manchester and Liverpool were facing tough tier 3 restrictions last month.
“This morning millions of people woke up knowing the prime minister of this country believes the north is worth less than the south,” Steve Rotheram, the Liverpool city region mayor, said. “Quite frankly, the government has treated us with contempt again.”
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, called for an end to the government’s “differential treatment” of people on low wages and “people in the north versus people in the south”.
Conservative MPs also lined up to criticise the government’s approach on Sunday. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that he will vote against the government’s lockdown measures in the vote on Wednesday.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said he feared the lockdown would last until the spring, as the virus resurges.
“In March, Boris said let’s hope this will only last four weeks, and it lasted four months. My firm belief this time is it will last six months. Because when it gets to 2 December and R is still 1.5, which it will be, because this lockdown will hold less well than the last one, then it will have to continue.”
He said only countries that have aggressively pursued a “test, trace and isolate” approach, including drastic measures such as closing borders and separating those testing positive from their families in isolation wards, had managed to control it successfully.
Another former cabinet minister said they believed ministers had been left with little choice but to act, but the “shambles” of the weekend “could cost us dearly in the polls”.
Former minister George Freeman said he would support the government – but only on the basis of a clear strategy that would see more power handed to local leaders to balance health and economic risks in their areas in the future.
MPs will be given a vote on the measures on Wednesday, before they come into force – but they are likely to pass with Labour support, even if a significant number of Conservatives rebel.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, will urge the government to use the four-week lockdown period to fix the shortcomings in the test-and-trace system.
He will call for much more extensive “retrospective” contact tracing to identify the source of outbreaks, and urge the government to use new rapid saliva-based testing kits to carry out weekly screening of high-risk workers.
These should include NHS staff, as well as other at-risk workers such as those in education, transport, retail and hospitality, Ashworth will suggest.
“Coronavirus is growing with ferocity and urgent action is needed to bring the R below 1 nationwide which is why Labour urged Boris Johnson to use the opportunity of the half-term holiday for a time-limited ‘circuit break’,” he said.
“This didn’t happen, and test and trace have been overwhelmed. Controlling Covid-19 depends on fixing tracing, ensuring the quick turnaround of tests and introducing regular, weekly testing to identify the 70% of carriers who may not have symptoms but can still spread the virus.”
Speaking to MPs, Johnson will stand by his decision not to lock England down earlier as scientific advisers recommended in September – a choice Labour claims will have cost lives.
“I know some in the house believe we should have reached this decision earlier, but I believe it was right to try every possible option to get this virus under control at a local level, with strong local action and strong local leadership,” the prime minister is expected to say.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Boris Johnson faces Tory fury amid hints of further lockdown | Boris Johnson