The UK government has been accused of running a “scaremongering propaganda campaign” as some of its own Conservative backbench MPs slammed the reintroduction of COVID-19 restrictions following the detection of the Omicron variant.
The House of Commons on Tuesday passed new measures proposed by the government, under which face coverings must be worn in shops and public transport in England, all travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result, and all contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a backbench rebellion, as 32 of his own Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the self-isolation regulations, while 19 opposed the face-covering measures.
During the debate, former minister Sir Christopher Chope called the new restrictions “oppressive, authoritarian, and dictatorial” and argued ministers had produced “no evidence whatsoever” to show the impact of the regulations on protecting public health.
“These regulations are part of a scaremongering propaganda campaign on the part of the government,” he said, adding, “They are designed to suppress freedom of the individual and suppress social contact, and they are doing that through unreasonable fear-mongering.”
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the influential 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said there were “serious concerns” about the “efficacy of what is being proposed,” and warned against “mission creep.”
“Now again we see the government’s immediate assumption that what it should reach for is new controls, new compulsion, new rules that will be inflicted on the British people,” he said. “And I think we need to move away from that, move back to a world where we trust people.”
Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne warned “another pingdemic” could occur as a result of the new self-isolation requirement, forcing a large number of workers to stay away from their jobs just as Christmas approaches.
But health minister Maggie Throup said the new measures were “proportionate, precautionary, and balanced.”
The government has been trying to allay concerns from the hospitality industry over the reintroduction of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions.
Also on Tuesday, the prime minister rejected a health chief’s call for people not to socialise if they do not need to in the run-up to Christmas.
Dr. Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, said people could do their bit to slow the spread of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant by reducing the number of social contacts they have.
But Downing Street later insisted there was “no change” in official guidance about socialising.
PA contributed to this report.