British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that there is "no alternative" but to impose a second England-wide lockdown as he tabled his proposals to curb the surge in coronavirus cases before members of Parliament. He rejected Opposition allegations that the government has been "slow" to act and said "no one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential".
"When the data changes course, we must change course too," he told MPs in the House of Commons, who must vote on the plans for them to take effect from Thursday. "There is no alternative but to take action at a national level I am truly sorry for the anguish these rules will cause businesses," Johnson said, as he thanked his senior Cabinet minister and Downing Street neighbour, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, for his "creativity" in coming up with support packages to help businesses through the crisis.
Johnson had announced the second England-wide stay-at-home lockdown on Saturday after details of a high-level Cabinet meeting were leaked ahead of schedule. He told the Commons on Monday that failing to act would risk the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) being overwhelmed and doctors having to choose which patients to treat and having a knock-on effect for other kinds of care. He warned that COVID-19 is "doubling faster than we could conceivably add capacity" to the health service. According to the details laid out before Parliament, the measures will "expire" on December 2 and after that the plan is for England to revert to the current tiered system of localised restrictions, with MPs given a say on the way forward at that stage. The PM also pledged a "steady but massive" expansion of rapid testing for COVID-19.
His statement comes amid a growing rebellion within his own Conservative Party ranks, with backbench MPs openly voicing their dissent against the repeat cycle of lockdowns. He held a series of behind the scenes meetings with the disgruntled Tory MPs to win support for the second lockdown. The Opposition Labour Party, meanwhile, accused the Johnson-led government of not acting fast enough but confirmed that they would be voting in favour of the second lockdown, which means the changes will clear the parliamentary threshold required by Wednesday. Labour Leader Keir Starmer said the central lesson from the first wave of the pandemic is that if you don't act quickly, "the cost will be far worse".
"The Prime Minister failed to learn this lesson. The human cost will be higher," he said. Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has also said his party will back the government on the second lockdown as he has also criticised Johnson for doing so late. The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own versions of tough lockdowns in place, which they say would carry on as planned. Meanwhile, the UK recorded 18,950 new coronavirus cases and 136 more deaths, taking the country's toll to 46,853.