Boris Johnson desperately tried to win over angry Tory MPs today as he defended his new national coronavirus lockdown and insisted he had no choice but to impose tough new draconian curbs.
The prime minister told a recalled House of Commons this morning that his hand had been forced after a new variant of the disease was found to spread with "terrifying ease".
Mr Johnson said the government's vaccination program means that almost a quarter of people over 80 have already received shocks and that England has vaccinated more people "than the rest of Europe combined".
He said a study by the Bureau of National Statistics, which indicated that one in 50 people is infected, showed that it is "inevitable that the facts will change" and the government's response had to follow.
The lockdown in England, which includes a strict stay-at-home message and all schools closed, is due to be reviewed in mid-February, but the law actually applies until the end of March.
Mr Johnson today defied calls from Tory MPs to ensure the rules were relaxed after the initial February 15 review, fueling fears that the shutdown could take far longer than the first seven weeks.
Tory Backbenchers slammed the prime minister's "malicious" lockdown and accused him of an "attack on freedom and livelihood" when they called for an exit strategy.
The prime minister said he hoped the measures could be lifted in the spring, but warned that there would not be a "big bang" from the lockdown, but rather a "gradual unpacking".
Boris Johnson faces a Tory riot over lockdown. Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne accused the Prime Minister of launching an "attack on freedom and livelihood".
Mr Johnson made it clear that a successful implementation of the vaccination program will be critical to when the lockdown measures can be lifted.
He said: “We have already vaccinated more people in this country than in the rest of Europe combined, and we will give the House the greatest possible transparency about our acceleration of these efforts by posting daily updates online starting Monday so that the honorable members of Stich can Stabbing can challenge the process that is done every day.
“But while we are taking this big step towards finally overcoming the virus and reclaiming our lives, we have to deal with the new variant, which is between 50 and 70 percent more contagious.
& # 39; The levels that the House agreed on last month worked with the old variant, but unfortunately, despite the excellent work done by the UK public, that mutation has spread with terrifying ease and speed, leading to more cases than we've ever seen numbers before that unfortunately cannot be explained by the meteoric rise in tests. & # 39;
Mr Johnson said the ONS report released yesterday, which shows the extent of infections across the country, as well as increasing hospital admissions, shows that it is "inevitable that the facts will change and that we will have to change our response."
He told MPs: “So we had no choice but to revert to a national lockdown in England, with similar measures being taken by the decentralized administrations to allow us to control this new variant until we got the most likely victims with vaccines out of the way can vacate. & # 39;
When Mr Johnson announced the lockdown on Monday night, he said the measures would be reviewed in mid-February.
However, the provisions that MEPs are voting on this afternoon should apply until the end of March.
Mr Johnson tried to allay Tory fears that the April measures might still be in place, but also insisted that the nation "must be extremely cautious about the upcoming timetable".
He said, “Like last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will not be a big bang but a gradual unpacking.
“For this reason, the legislation that this House will vote on later today runs until March 31, not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then, but for a steady, controlled, evidence-based transition through the levels on a regional basis, cautiously, stone by stone, so to speak, in order to free ourselves from our imprisonment, but without risking the hard-won profits that our protection has brought us. & # 39;
Mr Johnson said schools will be "the very first things to reopen" if lockdown measures can be eased.
Sir Keir Starmer said Labor would back the new lockdown as he warned Britain was facing "perhaps the darkest moment of the pandemic".
But he said the situation was not the result of "bad luck" and "following a pattern" when he accused the government of ignoring expert warnings and repetitively failing to act quickly enough.
"In the first wave of the pandemic, the government was repeatedly too slow to act, and we ended 2020 with one of the biggest deaths in Europe and the hardest-hit economies of any major economies," he said.
In early summer, a government report titled "Preparing for a Challenging Winter" warned of the risk of a second wave, mutation of the virus and overwhelming the NHS.
I presented this report to the Prime Minister at the PMQs in July.
& # 39; Track and trace didn't work all autumn. Sage advised an interruption in September, but the prime minister was weeks late before acting.
“We had a tiered system that didn't work, and then we had the debacle of the belated decision to change the rules of mixing for Christmas.
“The final piece of advice on the situation we are in now was given on December 22nd, but no action has been taken for two weeks until Monday of this week.
"These are the choices that have brought us to where we are now – and the vaccine is the only way out now and we must all support national efforts to get it in place as soon as possible."
Anger is growing on the back seats of the Tory over the government's handling of the pandemic.
Some high-ranking Conservative MPs had joined the opposition and called for another national ban.
But the idea of tightening restrictions sparked anger among other Conservatives who insisted that the country's experience with the pandemic shows lockdowns don't work and cripples the economy.
Tory MP Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown skeptics, has called for a "substantial relaxation" of restrictions once the four top priority groups have been vaccinated.
In the Telegraph he wrote: “Achieving this crucial goal must now become the central, overarching focus of government.
"We need to see daily vaccination reports that are updated by MPs and the public to make sure we are making the progress we need."
He added, "Once these groups have been vaccinated and become immune to the disease, this should be a clear threshold for when a substantial relaxation of restrictions can begin."
Tory colleague and CRG colleague Steve Baker later tweeted agreeing with Mr. Harper, adding, "Once the most vulnerable people are vaccinated, draconian restrictions must essentially be removed."
Many Conservative MPs are urging the government to explain the exact circumstances under which the lockdown will be lifted.
Former Tory Secretary Jeremy Wright told Mr Johnson in the House of Commons the government needs to be "more definitive" on when the curbs can be eased.
An angry Sir Desmond Swayne broke the restrictions and said to Mr Johnson: “Pubs cannot compete with supermarkets for off-sales, even in a household you cannot play tennis or golf.
"Why, in spite of the attack on liberty and livelihood, are these regulations permeated with a pettifogging malice?"
Mr Johnson replied: & # 39; Pettifogging, yes, vicious, no. I'm going to have to take the hit here to stop the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.
"To do this, we need to limit transmission between people."
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential Tory Backbenchers committee in 1922, said "many" MPs were concerned about being asked to approve a lockdown that could last until the end of March.
In the House of Commons, he said: “I welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that this House will be consulted on lifting restrictions if this is possible before the end of March, but can I tell him that many of us are concerned about being asked to approve a lockdown that could last until March 31st.
"Can I ask (Mr Johnson) to reconsider the house in late January and late February and offer him a vote, not on whether restrictions should be lifted but whether or not they should continue?"
Mr Johnson replied, "I can't believe the House will have to wait until the end of March before it gets a new vote and discussion of the action we need to take."
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson faces a Cabinet split over his decision to close schools across England.
The Prime Minister was initially on the Hawks' side, led by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who wanted classes to stay open.
But he switched to pigeons, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Michel Gove, the cabinet minister, after he was presented with new data showing the extent of the nation's problem, the Financial Times reported.
Mr Johnson's statement to MPs came after the government's vaccine tsar admitted today that the NHS would need to deliver around three million doses of vaccine a week through February to meet the Prime Minister's goal.
Nadhim Zahawi said the goal of covering more than 13 million of the most vulnerable people within seven weeks was "very flexible" – but could be achieved.
There is a growing demand today to speed up the vaccination process – with concerns that local chemists and other facilities are underutilized.
So far, around 1.3 million people in the UK have been vaccinated with the Oxford / AstraZeneca or Pfizer / BioNTech shocks and Mr Zahawi said there will be a "massive acceleration" in the coming days.
When challenged that the weekly number would have to be more than three million than two million to meet the Prime Minister's goal, Zahawi nodded and said, "You will see this surge – the NHS has a very clear plan.
“We have a fantastic team working 24/7 to make this happen.
& # 39; No doubt it's a stretching goal. But I think it's one that we should definitely watch out for. & # 39;
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