Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Boris Johnson refuses to back down from regional lockdown plan in PMQs showdown

 




Boris Johnson sounded defiance on his local 'Tiers' lockdown plan today despite warnings from scientists it is the 'worst of all worlds'.

In brutal clashes at PMQs, Mr Johnson dismissed calls from Sir Keir Starmer and SAGE for a 'miserable' national 'circuit breaker'.

He insisted that his job was to balance the economic and wider interests of the country with the science. 'The advice that I have today is that if you do the regional approach ... we can bring down the R. We can bring down the virus.' 

He accused Labour of 'opportunism' for coming out in favour of the move, despite previously endorsing local crackdowns.  

But Sir Keir shot back: 'We're at a tipping point. Time is running out.' 

The vicious exchanges came as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham lined up behind a 'circuit breaker' as a way to avoid being plunged into harsh 'Tier Three' restrictions without wider support. 

But Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers vented fury at SAGE - despite claims that behind the scenes the PM is seriously considering the option at school half-term and him saying this afternoon that he 'rules nothing out'. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said new nationwide measures are not on the cards before the end of the month, insisting the focus is on the new 'Tiered' local restrictions.

Conservative backbenchers are up in arms at the prospect, with fears that the damage from economic meltdown will be much worse than the virus, and warnings about punishing areas that still have low infection rates.  

But the PM is being assailed on both sides by 'hawks' and 'doves' in his own top team, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock engaged in angry exchanges with rebels in the Commons last night. 

Two senior SAGE experts have produced estimates that a short sharp shock lockdown from October 24 could reduce deaths by between 3,000 and 107,000. Another, Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, slammed Mr Johnson for achieving the 'worst of all worlds'.  

There are mounting signs of anxiety within Downing Street about its approach, after it emerged publicly that the PM has been defying his scientific advice for weeks.

Rumours were swirling today that Mr Johnson is seriously considering a 'circuit breaker'. Some schools, including most private schools, have their half-term next week, while others are the following week. One source told the Telegraph the PM is 80 per cent likely to order the closure of pubs, restaurants and some other firms.

Northern Ireland is set for a period of intensified coronavirus restrictions after executive ministers agreed to closures of schools, pubs and restaurants for four weeks. A form of 'circuit breaker' is already in place in Scotland, and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said today that he is leaning towards imposing one. 

In other coronavirus news:

  • A bombshell Ipsos MORI poll has found support for Scottish independence has hit 58 per cent amid a backlash at Mr Johnson's handling of the COVID crisis;  
  • Northern Ireland will close its pubs for a month from Friday and shut schools for a fortnight from next week under a circuit-breaker lockdown, First Minister Arlene Foster has announced; 
  • The leader of Lancashire County Council has said it is 'inevitable' the area will be upgraded to Tier Three coronavirus restrictions soon; 
  • Health officials in Liverpool expect to see the number of Covid-19 patients in the city's hospitals surpass the levels of the first peak in the next seven to 10 days; 
  • Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots not to travel to Blackpool saying 180 recent infections north of the border had been linked to the town; 
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned it is 'inevitable' London will be plunged into a Tier Two lockdown this week;
  • Tory curfew rebels made a symbolic protest against the 10pm pub closure rule but were unable to prevent it;
  • Health minister Helen Whately said care home residents' families will be treated as key workers with weekly tests;




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