Boris Johnson has insisted four weeks of national lockdown should be enough to drive down the spread of coronavirus so the severe restrictions can be eased. As England was plunged into a second shutdown on Thursday, the Prime Minister recognised many were “anxious, weary and fed up” after a rebellion on the measures from Conservative MPs.
Mr Johnson said he has “every confidence” the measures will work so the NHS will not be overwhelmed and the lockdown in England can be eased back into a tiered system on December 2.
The Prime Minister faced questions over whether he would be able to extend the national restrictions if necessary after 32 Tories defied the whip to vote against the measures.
“The advice I have received suggests that four weeks is enough for these measures to make a real impact,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
“These rules will expire and on December 2 we plan to move back to a tiered approach. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
“These are difficult times. While it pains me to have to ask once again for so many to give up so much, I know we can get through this.”
He said “the objective” is to return to regional restrictions next month so “people across this country will be able to have as normal a Christmas as possible”.
Mr Johnson was questioned whether he would be able to rely on his own MPs for subsequent measures or if he would have to rely on Labour votes after a further 18 Tories, including former prime minister Theresa May, did not vote in a Commons vote to pass the lockdown regulations.
“I’m very, very grateful to MPs for voting through the measures that we did yesterday and I believe that I’m right in saying that the Government was able to do it with its own votes, but obviously it was good that this was a measure that was supported by people across all political parties, and that’s the right way forward in this country,” Mr Johnson said.
On Friday, a mass testing pilot of the Government’s “operation moonshot” begins in Liverpool and everyone who lives or works in the city will be encouraged to get tested even if they do not have symptoms as Mr Johnson banks on technological advances to allow a freer future.
But it comes as the Guardian reported that a rapid coronavirus test at the heart of the strategy missed more than 50% of positive cases in a Greater Manchester pilot.
Mr Johnson insisted test and trace is improving after it recorded a record low for contacts reached in England but acknowledged “frustrations” with the system and accepted it “hasn’t had as much impact as we would have wanted”.
Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops have closed their doors and people have been told to stay at home for the next four weeks but schools, universities and nurseries are remaining open.
By Mr Johnson’s side, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens assured sceptics that the second wave of the pandemic “is real and serious”.
In other developments:
– Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme for the Treasury to cover 80% of wages of employees unable to work until March in a major U-turn from the Government.
– The Government announced that travellers arriving from Germany and Sweden from Saturday will be told to self-isolate for 14 days.
– Official figures showed a further 378 people died within 28 days of testing positive of Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 48,120, though separate figures suggest there have been around 63,000 deaths involving the virus.
– The UK Statistics Authority watchdog warned ministers and government advisers over the use of coronavirus data in ways that can “confuse” the public.
– Scotland Yard said officers made 104 arrests largely for breaching coronavirus regulations as anti-lockdown protesters took to central London, with the figure expected to rise.