Mail Online: LONDON, England – Boris Johnson effectively took the country back to square one last night as he unveiled a dramatic new national month-long lockdown to avoid a ‘medical and moral disaster’ – ordering the public to stay at home.
After weeks insisting he is sticking to local restrictions, the PM completed an humiliating U-turn by announcing blanket coronavirus restrictions for England at a prime-time press conference alongside medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance.
Mr Johnson said the draconian measures – which come into force from midnight Thursday morning until December 2 – were the only way to avert bleak Sage predictions of 85,000 deaths this winter, far above the previous ‘reasonable worst case’, and the NHS being swamped before Christmas. He said otherwise doctors would have to choose between saving Covid sufferers and those with other illnesses.
‘No responsible PM can ignore the message of those figures,’ Mr Johnson said. ‘We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature.’
Mr Johnson pointed out that the action was not the same as March as key sectors of the economy are under orders to stay open, but said he was’under no illusions’ about how tough it would be.
He declared that the furlough scheme will be extended for the period, rather than ending tomorrow as originally planned. That could add another £7billion to the Treasury’s spiralling debt mountain.
Mr Johnson also refused to rule out extending the measures beyond the proposed end date. Asked if the time would be enough, the premier said: ‘I hope so. We have every reason to believe it will be. But we will be driven by the science.’
Reviving the government mantra from the height of lockdown, Mr Johnson urged the public: ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’
But he tried to send a slightly more optimistic message, saying he hoped that the severity of the squeeze meant families would have a chance of being together at Christmas. ‘I am confidence we will feel very different and better by the spring,’ he added.
In his latest grim assessment, Sir Patrick suggested the NHS would be overwhelmed by mid-December, even with surge capacity and the postponement of elective procedures. He said there was the ‘potential’ for deaths to be ‘twice as bad or more compared to the first wave’.
Prof Whitty said: ‘The progress is steady and we now have several hospitals with more patients.. than they had at the peak in the spring.’
The brutal squeeze – billed as ‘Tier Four’ on the government’s sliding scale – will see non-essential shops in England shut, as well as bars and restaurants despite the ‘absolutely devastating’ impact on the already crippled hospitality sector.
Households will be banned from mixing indoors during the period, and people will be told not to leave home and travel abroad unless for unavoidable reasons, such as work that cannot be performed remotely, or to take exercise.
However, unlike the March lockdown schools and universities will remain open – despite unions warning they are key to the spread.
When the rules lapse at the beginning of December the Tiers system will be reapplied, raising questions about what metric will be used to judge whether an area can have restrictions loosened.
West Yorkshire will not enter the highest Tier 3 restrictions on Monday as planned because of the new England lockdown, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority said.
The hospitality industry warned it faces disaster and millions of job losses following the news of the crackdown, even though the government has pledged to pump in more money.
Mr Johnson previously slapped down demands for a ‘circuit-breaker’ – a form of which has already been implemented in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – instead extolling the virtues of his ‘tiered’ system of local measures.
But he sounded defiant tonight, dismissing accusations from Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer that his delay had cost lives and saying the policy had been ‘right’ before. ‘It is true the course of the pandemic has changed,’ Mr Johnson said.
Nicola Sturgeon made clear this afternoon that she does not intend to shift her policy based on the new arrangements for England. She said: ‘We will base decisions on circumstances here – though what happens just across our border is clearly not irrelevant to our considerations.’
Another 326 UK fatalities were declared today – nearly double last Saturday’s tally. But infections, which can represent the current situation more accurately, were down five per cent on a week ago at 21,915 in a possible sign that the rise could already be slowing.
Hawkish Conservative backbenchers are threatening to revolt in Parliament when the measures come to a vote on Wednesday – the first time curbs have come before MPs in advance of being introduced.