England has begun its second nationwide lockdown on Thursday, despite a bruising vote the previous day in which Boris Johnson’s coronavirus disease strategy was rejected by dozens of his own MPs.
Senior Tories including former leaders Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith were among those in Wednesday’s Commons debate to attack Downing Street’s management of the pandemic, which claimed nearly 500 lives across the UK on Wednesday – up 24% on the previous day – and left more than 12,000 people hospitalised.
NHS England warned that within two weeks more hospital beds could be filled than at the height of the first wave, and said its alert level would rise to four from Thurday, meaning the pandemic response would be handled nationally rather than regionally.
The four-week stay-at-home order starting on Thursday, in which all non-essential shops and venues will have to close, is likely to be more heavily policed than the first national lockdown in March, after the home secretary, Priti Patel, told forces that Johnson expected them to “strengthen enforcement”.
The House of Commons approved the new measures on Wednesday by 516 votes to 38 with opposition parties backing the government.
Thirty-four Conservative MPs voted against the four-week lockdown – the central plank of Downing Street’s plan for containing the virus – and several said they could not support any extension beyond 2 December, when it is due to end. May was among those who lined up to criticise the government, saying no data had been produced to justify the rules.
In a final attempt to quell a substantial revolt, Johnson had urged rebels in his party to “put differences aside”. But May said the potential need for a rolling series of lockdowns would cause “irreparable damage” to the economy and have a “significant impact on lives”, while the regional tiers system had not been given adequate time to work. Liverpool, which has been subject to tier 3 measures, had seen cases halve, which May said suggested the localised approach may be working.
Duncan Smith said the data used to put England into lockdown had “unravelled in the last few days”, also pointing to case numbers in Liverpool. He said he would not vote for the government’s plan, saying he believed that the leak of the lockdown plans on Friday had “bounced the government” into announcing the measures.
Many Conservative MPs were taken aback by the prime minister’s abrupt abandonment of tiered regional restrictions, which he had been robustly defending days before Saturday’s announcement.
Scientists believe the R number is still above 1 in most parts of the country, meaning that even though infection rates are slowing in Liverpool and other tier 3 areas, the decline is not by enough to avoid a prolonged second wave and excess deaths.
May abstained rather than vote against the lockdown measures, and Duncan Smith was among those voting against, as were a string of other former ministers including Steve Baker and Esther McVey, and the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady.
Credit: Guardian UK