Dec. 20, 2020
FAILING to introduce Covid restrictions earlier was an “act of gross negligence,” Labour charged today after the PM sprung new measures on millions days before Christmas.
Tough new coronavirus controls were placed on London, the south-east and east of England from midnight on Sunday sparking anger over the government’s handling of the crisis.
The additional measures, which ban household mixing over the festive period, could remain in place for the “next couple of months,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today.
Mr Hancock insisted that ministers had acted “very quickly and decisively” after they were told on Friday by scientist advisers that a new strain of the virus was spreading more quickly in the region.
“The new variant is out of control and we need to bring it under control,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
However Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that alarm bells had been “ringing for weeks” but that Mr Johnson had repeatedly failed to act.
“It is an act of gross negligence by a Prime Minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve,” he told an online press conference today.
“It was blatantly obvious last week that the Prime Minister’s plan for a free-for-all over Christmas was a risk too far.
“We have known about rising infections and the NHS reaching capacity in many parts of the country for weeks.”
Mr Starmer said the PM should apologise to the British public. However, when questioned over whether Labour would review its opposition to shifting schools to online learning – education having been the largest engine of virus transmission during the second lockdown – he said there should still be “no more delay” in getting children back into classrooms following the Christmas break.
At a Number 10 news conference on Saturday, Mr Johnson said he was imposing new restrictions with a “heavy heart” but that the scientific evidence had left him with no choice.
It comes after he said last Wednesday that it would be “inhumane” to cancel Christmas.
The rules creating a new Tier 4 in England have thrown millions of families’ Christmas plans into disarray with households in London and south-east England now forbidden to mix.
In the rest of England the period for multiple households meeting will be reduced from a five-day window to just Christmas Day. Non-essential shops, hairdressers and leisure and entertainment venues will close.
Rail unions rounded on the government today after its announcement prompted a rush to London train stations on Saturday evening.
Tickets from Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston sold out as thousands tried to escape the capital before the restrictions set in.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the scenes “reflect the shambolic approach of the government.”
TSSA said the chaos was “completely avoidable,” and accused ministers of “throwing carefully crafted plans by the rail industry for safe travel over the festive period into disarray.”
Ministers said today that more police will be deployed at train stations to prevent people making unnecessary journeys.
The TUC also called on the government today to provide extra support for industries worst hit by the new rules.
TUC secretary for London and the South East Sam Gurney said: “The new Tier 4 rules will be very difficult for struggling sectors like hospitality and the arts.
“The government must step in with extra support for the worst-hit industries before jobs go and businesses close. And sick pay should be worth at least the real Living Wage so that people can afford to self-isolate.”
Mr Johnson’s announcement was followed by stricter controls in Scotland and Wales.
The government attributes the U-turn to the prevalence of the newly identified VUI2020/12/01 strain of the virus, which is spreading at a faster rate than any other version.
Doctors’ union BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said today that doctors were reporting a “massive surge in Covid cases” with one in three seeing even more cases than during the first wave.
Several European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy imposed bans on flights from Britain today in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new strain to their shores.
Published at morningstaronline.co.uk