Johnson Wins Lockdown Approval After U.K. Sees 492 Daily Deaths

The British Parliament voted to back Boris Johnson’s fresh coronavirus lockdown after the prime minister warned England faces the “risk of mortality on a grievous scale” if lawmakers failed to approve the plan.

The National Health Service would be in “extraordinary trouble” without urgent action to curb the virus, with sick patients turned away and doctors forced to make “impossible choices” on who would receive oxygen, Johnson said.

The U.K. reported 492 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, underlining the severity of the pandemic’s resurgence, shortly before MPs voted by 516 to 38 to approve the plan.

Johnson sought to ease concerns over the financial support for workers and businesses affected by the new four-week lockdown, telling the House of Commons that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will spell out a plan on Thursday, including details on the furlough program he’s extended to Dec. 2.

The new regulations take effect Thursday, enforcing the closing of pubs, gyms and non-essential shops and restricting household mixing. The premier announced the partial lockdown over the weekend after data showed the pandemic exceeding even the worst-case projections of his scientific advisers.

There’s a political cost to the prime minister, who for weeks opposed a second national lockdown as a “nuclear” option, ridiculing opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer for demanding one. His U-turn sparked concerns among business leaders and anger within his party.

Tory Divisions

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, questioned the data used to justify the lockdown, particularly the worst-case projection of 4,000 deaths a day without intervention.

“For many people, it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on the figures,” she told MPs.

Tory MP Peter Bone said he would vote against the lockdown because the government’s case was based on “dubious” modeling. “It seems to me there are lies, damn lies and Covid statistics,” he said on Twitter.

Earlier Wednesday, NHS leaders warned against what they called “conspiracy theories” that Covid cases are not rising sharply, and said that a further increase in through November is inevitable due to the lag between infections and hospital admissions. More than 10,000 patients are currently in the hospital with Covid-19, according to NHS England.

“We’re not even in winter yet,” Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said at a press briefing. The NHS is moving to its highest state of alert.

Labour Backing

Despite the vocal criticism from rank-and-file Conservatives, the government easily won the vote on the lockdown because the main opposition Labour Party supported it.

Both Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of rank-and-file Tory lawmakers, and his deputy, Charles Walker, said they would vote against the regulations. The number of rebels fell short of the 42 Tories who rebelled in a vote last month against the government-imposed 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants.

The rebels wanted proof Johnson has an exit strategy, amid fears the curbs will be extended if the infection rate doesn’t drop sufficiently. Johnson said the measures expire automatically on Dec. 2 and Parliament will then decide what measures are needed to replace them.

“All the scientific experts I’ve talked to are unanimous on one point,” Johnson said. “If we did not act now, the chances of the National Health Service being in extraordinary trouble in December would be very, very high.” He went on: “I’m not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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