Government plans to return to Covid Tier system after December 2, PM says

2 November 2020, 15:58 | Updated: 3 November 2020, 08:01

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson told MPs today he does not intend to extend England’s coronavirus lockdown beyond December 2 and wants to return to the tier system after that date.

Amid a growing Tory rebellion over the new measures, Mr Johnson insisted the national lockdown, if approved by MPs, will automatically expire next month.

Making a statement in the Commons, the Prime Minister told MPs: “Let me stress that these restrictions are time-limited.

“After four weeks, on Wednesday 2nd December, they will expire and we intend to return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis.”

He promised MPs a vote on the next stage of measures to combat coronavirus when the lockdown is lifted. The Commons "will have a vote to agree the way forward", he said.

It comes after Michael Gove sparked concern over the weekend by refusing to confirm whether restrictions could need to be extended past the deadline.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer strongly criticised the Prime Minister over his handling of the pandemic, accusing him of a "catastrophic failure of leadership".

Kicking off a debate on the measures ahead of a vote by MPs on Wednesday, Mr Johnson warned there could be twice as many deaths over the winter in comparison to the first wave. He added that there is no alternative but to introduce national restrictions.

He warned of the "existential threat" to the NHS as a result of Covid-19, saying he would “spell out the medical and moral disaster we face”.

The PM told MPs: "If we allow our health system to be overwhelmed, exactly as the data now suggests, then that would not only be a disaster for thousands of Covid patients, because their survival rates would fall, we would also reach a point where the NHS was no longer there for everyone.

"The sick would be turned away because there was no room in our hospitals. That sacred principle of care for anyone who needs it, whoever they are and wherever, whenever they need it, could be broken for the first time in our lives.

"Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die. And this existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, but from not focusing enough.

"If we fail to get coronavirus under control, it is the sheer weight of demand from Covid patients that would deprive others of the care they need. Cancer treatment, heart surgery, other life-saving procedures, all this could be put at risk if we do not get the virus under control."

Mr Johnson insisted technological advances will "defeat this virus by the spring"

He hailed advances in medicine including "virtually instant" Covid-19 tests and said there is a "real prospect" of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year.

"I believe that these technical developments, taken together, will enable us to defeat this virus by the spring as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease," he said.

He also announced greater support for the self-employed after extending the furlough scheme for employees as pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops are ordered to close.

With Chancellor Rishi Sunak beside him, Mr Johnson said the Government will double support for the self-employed for November from 40% to 80% of trading profits.

Although Sir Keir confirmed his party would support the measures, he said Mr Johnson and the Chancellor had "failed to learn" lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.

He told the Commons: "The central lesson from the first wave of this virus was that if you don't act early and decisively the cost will be far worse, more people will lose their jobs, more businesses will be forced to close and tragically more people will lose their loved ones.

"The Prime Minister and the Chancellor failed to learn this lesson. As a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be, at least four weeks, it will be harder – we’ve just missed half-term – and the human cost will be higher."

Meanwhile a growing number of senior MPs on the Conservative backbenches have said they will oppose the new lockdown during a vote on Wednesday.

Sir Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, was among those to confirm he would vote against the legislation. He argued the UK is drifting "further into an authoritarian, coercive state".

Another reason for their anger is that several newspapers learned on Friday that a new lockdown would be imposed, before Mr Johnson updated the public or Parliament.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said any MP found to have leaked details over the second lockdown should apologise for displaying "discourteous and unacceptable" behaviour.