British lawmakers have voted in favour of new, tougher, three-tiered restrictions in England to follow on from the national lockdown curbs that ended at midnight on Dec. 1.
The motion to impose the measures was carried in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening by 291 votes to 78.
The vote in favour of the government came despite growing dissent from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative backbenchers over lockdown curbs.
Johnson had appealed for party unity on Sunday in a letter he wrote to the COVID Recovery Group (CRG) of 70 Conservative MPs, who object to the continuation of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus lockdown restrictions.
The CRG had themselves written to the PM on Nov. 21 saying its members could not support any further lockdown unless the government can prove its effectiveness.
In his letter to the CRG Johnson said that he believes the strategy he had set out is “a balanced approach … and the best way forward.”
“Disagreement on approach is natural, and I hope you recognise that the government is seeking as far as possible to listen to criticism and respond positively to constructive proposals,” the letter read.
“Now more than ever is the time to demonstrate unity and resolve,” Johnson said and highlighted the prospect of vaccines and increased testing.
Johnson continued to pin major hope on vaccines when putting the restrictions before the Commons prior to the vote on Tuesday.
He said vaccines could be the key that will “get our economies moving again and allow us to reclaim our lives.”
He was greatly encouraged, he said, by a visit on Monday to a vaccine plant in North Wales, where he saw for himself “the vials of one of seven vaccines backed by the UK government.”
He said the plant had started manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that day and it could produce 300 million doses a year.
Labour opposition leader Kier Starmer, whose party abstained from the vote, said he had supported the government over two lockdowns and agreed some form of restrictions were needed.
However, he was not convinced of the efficacy of the government’s plans for either public health or the economy.
“I am far from convinced by what the prime minister has said today, in particular the economic package is nowhere near sufficient to support the communities most affected,” he said.
“I also fear that without the right health measures in place, in particular, a working trace and isolate system, there are real risks that this plan is incapable of controlling the virus this winter.”
Part of the government’s COVID-19 Winter Plan (pdf), the latest tiered restrictions are more stringent than the earlier version that was in place on Nov. 5 before the country’s 28-day lockdown started.
In Tier 2 (high risk) there is no mixing indoors except with people in the same household or support bubble. Outdoors, people can mix socially in groups of up to six.
In Tier 3 (very high risk), people are not allowed to mix with anyone outside their household or support bubble either indoors or at most outdoor locations.
Only three areas of the country, the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly are to go into the lowest tier, Tier 1 (medium risk). The rest of the country will be in Tiers 2 and 3.
In all three tiers gyms, leisure centres, hairdressers, and swimming pools will be open, as will churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples for communal worship.
In Tier 2, alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal, while in Tier 3 hospitality businesses must close except for delivery and takeaway services, drive-through, and click and collect.
Shops can open in all tiers, unlike in the first tier system.
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.