People in England will wake up to familiar coronavirus restrictions on Thursday as the country heads into a second national lockdown. Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops have once again been forced to close their doors and members of the public are ordered to stay at home for the next four weeks in a bid to reverse the spread of Covid-19.
It comes amid reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to confirm in a statement to the Commons on Thursday morning that the 80% furlough scheme will continue for businesses that have been shut due to restrictions beyond this lockdown period.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has been warned by a group of northern Conservative MPs that they do not want their constituencies “locked into lockdown” indefinitely.
Chairman of the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Tory backbenchers, Jake Berry, has called for more clarity from Boris Johnson for a roadmap out of the measures for a second time in little more than a week, as dissent appears to be growing within the Conservative Party.
On Wednesday evening, MPs voted by 516 to 38 – a Government majority of 478 – for the new restrictions, which are due to expire on December 2.
However, in a bigger-than-expected Commons rebellion, 32 Tory MPs defied the whips to vote against the measures, with two more acting as tellers for the noes.
The new restrictions were then cleared through Parliament after they were approved by the House of Lords.
The Bank of England is expected to slash its growth forecasts for the economy on Thursday and pump in another £100 billion of quantitative easing to boost the economy.
According to The Sun, Mr Sunak will tell MPs the 80% furlough scheme will remain available beyond December 2 to any area of the UK under the highest Covid-19 restrictions, such as Tier 3 areas in England.
The Chancellor is also expected to announce that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have access to the scheme, should they follow England in imposing national restrictions, according to the Telegraph.
The lockdown comes with a number of exceptions, including pupils continuing to go to school, limitless outdoor exercise and “safe visiting” for care home residents and their families.
Under new Government guidelines, care home visitors will be encouraged to meet their loved ones through a window or in an outside setting, following concerns about the emotional damage to residents and their families.
But the guidance, which was issued less than 12 hours before new lockdown measures came into force, was criticised and dismissed as “warm words” by care experts.
Also from Thursday, all students and teachers in secondary schools and colleges in England will be required to wear face coverings when moving around the premises.
NHS England was set to move into its highest alert level – level 4 – from midnight on Wednesday amid a continuing rise in coronavirus patients needing hospital care.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said the service already had “22 hospitals’ worth” of Covid-19 patients and now faced a “serious situation ahead”.
During a press conference, he also said a potential vaccination programme will see vaccines delivered at GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass testing centres – including at the Nightingale hospitals.
GPs will be put on stand-by from December should a vaccine be made available before Christmas, he added.
People in Wales will be able to return to pubs and restaurants and schools are set to reopen when the nation’s two-and-a-half week “firebreak” ends next week.
A regional tiered approach to restrictions is in force across Scotland, while in Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants are still shuttered after being closed for four weeks starting on October 16.