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Government wins Commons vote to delay lockdown easing by four weeks

·3-min read
Boris Johnson in Parliament today.  (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson in Parliament today. (PA Wire)

MPs have voted in favour of keeping pandemic regulations in England until July 19.

They voted by 461 to 60 in favour of the extension.

The decision means pubs, clubs and theatres will still have to operate within capacity limits and nightclubs will remain closed.

And limits remain on how many people can meet up, with groups of up to 30 allowed to gather outdoors and up to six people or two households allowed indoors, although weddings will be exempt.

Boris Johnson said on Monday that delaying the planned lifting of restrictions would give the NHS “a few more crucial weeks” to get people vaccinated.

Labour said it supported the delay “with a heavy heart”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had urged MPs to back the extension of lockdown restrictions in England saying there has been a “significant change” that has given the virus “extra legs”.

Opening a debate in the Commons before the vote Hancock said pausing step 4 of the roadmap out of restrictions was a “difficult but essential decision”.

He said the Delta variant “spreads more easily” and there was “some evidence that the risk of hospitalisation is higher than for the Alpha variant” that was previously dominant in the UK.

He said figures showed the Delta variant now account for 96% of new cases and that the number of infections was rising, with hospitalisations also up 48% over the past week.

He added: “We don’t yet know the extent to which the link between hospitalisation and deaths has been broken, so we propose to give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.”

The government’s objective was “not to eradicate” the virus he said because “that is not possible” but rather to aim “to live with it” like we do with flu.

And he said delaying lifting remaining social distancing restrictions would enable “a majority” of the over 40s to have two doses of the vaccine by 19 July.

But former Conservative minister, Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, questioned whether the four week delay would make a difference.

He said he doubted all those in the top nine priority groups would have two vaccines by then.

He said: “My worry, and the worry of others, is we’re going to get to this point in four weeks’ time and we’re just going to be back here all over again extending the restrictions.”

Another Conservative, Sir Desmond Swayne, said ministers’ response to the rising cases was disproportionate and a threat to civil liberties.

“I always thought it was wrong for them to take our freedoms, even though they believed that they were acting in our best interests in an emergency, but by any measure that emergency has now passed and yet freedoms are still withheld, and the government will not allow us to assess for ourselves the risks that we are prepared to encounter in our ordinary everyday lives,” he said.

Despite some opposition to the extension, the government is expected to win the vote because Labour has indicated it will not vote against the plans.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would support the delay “with a heavy heart” because “we have to recognise the facts before us”.

He said lifting all restrictions now “could be akin to throwing petrol on a fire” and it was essential to listen to the warnings from health professionals and help relieve the pressure on hospitals.

“But, of course, we shouldn’t be here, and we are only here because over the last eight weeks we have failed to contain the Delta variant and have allowed it to become dominant.”

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