MPs have approved the third coronavirus lockdown in England, but the government has been urged by leading members of its ruling party to allow further votes on the measures being implemented both again this month and next month.
A four-hour debate on the lockdown and current coronavirus situation preceded the vote, with MPs approving the newest lockdown by a margin of 524 votes to 16, a majority of 508. Fourteen Conservative MPS actively rebelled against Johnson and his government, with 12 of those voting against the restrictions and two acting as tellers for the No vote.
The approval of MPs was asked for retrospectively as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the lockdown should be adhered to by the public as soon as it was announced on Monday night. Johnson has since warned that the easing of the nationwide shutdown would be a “gradual unwrapping” rather than a “big bang” as many would have liked.
English hospitals are currently facing a crisis as Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to increase and wreak havoc on the healthcare system in the country. Reports that cancer treatments have been postponed as a result of the current crisis have surfaced and some experts have stated that hospitals may collapse within three weeks if strong action is not taken.
“We have ambulances queuing up outside – patients we can’t get them out of the ambulances into hospitals because every single bed in intensive care, in the wards, in A&E is full,” Dr Rachel Clarke told the BBC.
She added: “Tonight I had messages from a doctor in London to tell me that police cars are delivering critically-ill Covid patients into his hospital in London because there are no ambulances.
“That is how bad things are. How could the government have allowed things to get so bad?”
The government has commenced their vaccination rollout plan, which aims to vaccinate almost 14 million of the most vulnerable in the UK by the middle of February, a target the prime minister has suggested for relaxing some lockdown measures.
Despite this, the regulations just approved by MPs are legally in place until March 31.
“Since the pandemic began last year, the whole United Kingdom has been engaged in a great national effort to fight COVID. And there’s no doubt that in fighting the old variant of the virus, our collective efforts were working and would have continued to work,” UK PM Boris Johnson said after the announcement of the third English lockdown.
“But we now have a new variant of the virus, and it’s been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading. Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50 and 70% more transmissible. That means you’re much, much more likely to catch the virus and to pass it on.”
During Wednesday’s lockdown debate, Health Secretary Matt Hancock faced calls from MPs to promise House of Commons votes on the measures both at the end of January and end of February in order to decide if the ‘extreme measures’ stay in place.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time, since the start of the pandemic. In England alone, the number of COVID patients in hospitals has increased by nearly a third in the last week to almost 27,000,” Johnson continued during his announcement.
“And that number is 40% higher than the first peak in April. On the 29th of December, more than 80,000 people tested positive for COVID across the UK, a new record. The number of deaths is up by 20% over the last week and will sadly rise further. My thoughts are with all those who’ve lost loved ones.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out. In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown, which is tough enough to contain this variant. That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home. You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance, such as getting a COVID test, or to escape domestic abuse. The full details of what you can and can’t do will be available at gov.uk/coronavirus.
“Today, the United Kingdom’s chief medical officers have advised that the country should move to alert level five, meaning that if action is not taken, NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days,” he said.
“Of course, there’s one huge difference compared to last year. We’re now running out the biggest vaccination program in our history. So far, we in the UK have vaccinated more people than in the rest of Europe combined. With the arrival today of the UK’s own Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the pace of vaccination is accelerating.”