THE third national coronavirus lockdown has been voted through Parliament – but MPs have demanded that the new laws are lifted after the UK's most vulnerable are vaccinated.
Politicians tonight voted retrospectively on the return to a March-style shutdown, which sees non-essential shops shuttered, international arrivals tested 72 hours before passing through British airports and schools closed.
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And despite concerns the country could shut down for months to come, MPs overwhelmingly voted in favour of the lockdown, with 524 to 16.
Boris Johnson initially told Brits the lockdown would end in mid-February, but has since warned it could last up until the end of March.
MPs were recalled to the House of Commons today for the crucial vote on the new lockdown laws, which were announced on Monday night.
The PM stressed that the restrictions would fade out gradually over time as soon as possible – but has now admitted that they may legally remain in place until March 31, according to the laws which came in last night.
Today, more than 1,000 Covid deaths were recorded for the first time since April as a mutant strain of the disease rages out of control.
One in 50 people living in England has coronavirus – although in London, it's thought one in 30 has the deadly bug.
And Mr Johnson has said that only after the roll-out is underway and the most vulnerable have been protected will he consider lifting measures.
He said there would be a "gradual unwrapping" and the nation would gradually go down the Tiers system again afterwards.
He said: "Carefully, brick-by-brick, as it were, breaking free of our confinement but without risking the hard-won gains that protections have given us."
It will be the law to review the measures every two weeks – and there will be a legal obligation to remove them if they are no longer necessary.
We will use every second of lockdown to place this invisible shield around the elderly and the vulnerable
MPs have been quick to express their deep frustration with the fact it could go on for much longer than the PM said just two days ago – and demanded he commit to reducing them as soon as possible.
They insisted that as soon as all the most vulnerable people have the jab, the rules should begin to be lifted no matter what.
And Mark Harper of the Covid Recovery Group said: "Once we have vaccinated those four groups, they have got immunity, and we have taken off the risk of death of 80 per cent of people…
"What possible reason is there then, at that point, not rapidly relaxing the restrictions on the rest of the country?"
He was one of several demanding a strict time-limit on the lockdown laws, but insisted he would not vote against tonight's laws.
Yet Matt Hancock stressed the effects of the mass vaccination may not show in the figures for weeks to come – and the nation must wait for that point in order to return to normal.
Mr Hancock added: "We have to see that impact of the vaccines on the number of deaths – we need to see the protection in lived reality on the ground – we will watch this like a hawk."
Conservative MP Stephen McPartland ahead of sitting in the Commons that he will not vote for the lockdown, telling talkRADIO: "We know the lockdown is effectively going to be until the end of March… and sadly they may well continue that".
And Charles Walker also said he would be voting against the measures.
It came as:
- Teachers could be bumped up the priority list for the vaccine to help kids get back to school in the coming months, MPs suggested
- 1,041 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday – the highest daily reported total since April 21 – and 62,000 cases
- Ministers this morning insisted pharmacies would be used for the jab rollout – just hours after they complained of being snubbed
- And Matt Hancock and Public Health England faced a backlash as the jab won't be delivered to hospitals and GPs on Sundays
- The Met Police issued new guidance for officers to be stricter in enforcing lockdown rules
- Volunteer vaccinators will no longer need to have anti-terrorism training, it was confirmed
- Another 3,000 more people are in hospital with Covid than when Boris Johnson made his lockdown announcement on Monday evening – bringing the total to 30,000
- Clap for Carers is to return tomorrow night with Brits urged to applaud all Covid heroes
Sir Graham Brady, the Tory backbench boss, demanded another vote in February on extending the laws.
Conservative former minister Dame Cheryl Gillan said: "These regulations stop golf and outside activities, this is patently ridiculous and we need some common sense, for goodness sake, as this sort of nonsense damages our credibility."
New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne accused the PM of "malice" with rules which dictate people's everyday lives, saying the new lockdown was an "assault on liberty and livelihoods".
Chris Grayling warned: "Many of us support the PM in what he is doing but are very concerned that this House will not have an opportunity to take a further view on these regulations until the end of March."
He demanded another debate before February half term and the progress made so far, stressing Britain should not wait until the end of March if possible.
And Tory MP Jeremy Wright demanded a number for how many needed to be vaccinated before restrictions will be lifted – which Boris failed to answer.
He urged: "When a specific point has been reached in the vaccine priority groups and a consequent reduction in the risk of hospitalisations and deaths, that then the balance of risk between health on the one hand and livelihood and learning on the other will be significantly different and then restrictions can be lifted."
However, despite the open ended shutdown, the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), which was formed to resist lockdown measures,is set to back the Government too.
One member told The Times: "There’s no choice this time."
Boris said schools were his priority to get back up and running again when possible, adding: "Schools have been the very last thing to close and when we begin to move out of lockdown, I promise they will be the very first things to reopen."
Ministers hope to get kids back to school after the February half-term break, but have refused to be drawn on any promises.
JAB THE NATION
The PM promised already that his vaccines strategy will deliver a way out of the lockdown, with a target of 13million of the most vulnerable Brits jabbed by the middle of February.
There are already almost 1,000 vaccines centres now up and running across the country – with 595 GP-led sites with 180 coming later this week. Hospitals are also dishing out the jab, and next week it will begin at sports stadiums and exhibition centres.
Covid vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said this morning that the vaccine programme was a 'Herculean' effort.
He said the target to get almost 14 million people vaccinated by next month is a "stretching target" but he was confident it would be delivered.
And there will be a "massive acceleration" in numbers vaccinated in the coming days, he promised.
Meanwhile, Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of the national infections service at Public Health England (PHE), said coronavirus cases were still rising.
"This position is the most serious we've been in so far this pandemic," she told BBC Breakfast.
Covid cases are continuing to rise across the nation – with 60,000 cases reported yesterday alone.
1.1.million people in the UK now have Covid – with 1.3million vaccinated.
Daily numbers for those who have had the jab will be revealed next week, Boris Johnson vowed last night.
Schools are to be shut until at least half term, and perhaps even longer, while A-Levels and GCSEs are cancelled.
But the kids of key workers and vulnerable children can still go in.
Earlie today Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon described the situation with schools as "a mess".
The Conservative MP told Sky News: "Clearly it has been a mess but we are where we are.
"But I think now we have to move on and make sure we have an exam system that is a level playing field for students and fair to the disadvantaged."
He also demanded teachers be given the jab next, after vulnerable people have had it.
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