Boris promises lockdown will end on December 2 despite growing extension fears

Boris Johnson has insisted that England’s looming lockdown will end on December 2, ‘without a shred of doubt’, despite widespread fears it may need to be extended.

The promise comes as experts warned that schools remaining open could mean the R rate remains above one, meaning coronavirus cases would still be growing in a month’s time. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has admitted that the month-long plan could go on longer. 

But on Monday the Prime Minister told MPs that ‘whatever happens these restrictions end on December 2 and any further measures will be a matter for this House of Commons.’

The promise – which appeared to leave room for MPs to be asked to back an extension – comes as the PM faces a chorus of criticism from his own MPs, and scepticism that a month will not be long enough to adequately control the virus – and avoid a third lockdown. Mr Johnson was also accused of a ‘catastrophic failure of leadership’. 

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Some Conservative MPs are planning to vote against the PM’s plan, but Labour will back it, meaning the second lockdown will come into force on Thursday. 

The PM has made a host of promises during the pandemic, only to U-turn at a later date – notably in insisting that a second lockdown would not be necessary. He also faced criticism for saying the country would have a ‘world-class’ test and trace system and that he hoped everything would be back to normal by Christmas. 

Mr Johnson promised MPs a fresh vote on the next stage of measures to combat Covid-19 when ‘we intend to return’ to a regional tiered system on December 2, and said people could look forward to doing their Christmas shopping in person. He repeatedly told MPs that the measures would automatically end in four weeks and that they would then decide what action comes next.

The first national lockdown had to be extended.

As business chiefs warned that the ‘truly devastating’ measures would hurt industry across the country, the PM also claimed technological advances will ‘defeat this virus by the spring’.

He hailed advances in medicine including ‘virtually instant’ Covid-19 tests, and said there is a ‘real prospect’ of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year.

Mr Johnson had warned that ‘without action’ there could be twice as many deaths over the winter as in the first wave, leaving ‘no alternative’ to another national lockdown.

But he hinted that many more areas could be placed in tier three at the end of the lockdown, saying: ‘The tier that areas go into will depend very much on the effectiveness with which we’ve all followed the instructions that we’re giving today.’

Sir Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of a ‘catastrophic failure of leadership’ for rejecting a recommendation from scientists to impose a shorter ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in September. The Government previously ridiculed Sir Keir for backing the plan, which could have coincided with schools being off for half term.

The Labour leader warned that the ‘human cost’ of a growing daily death rate was a result of Mr Johnson being ‘behind the curve’ at every stage.

A scientist advising the Government said ‘thousands of lives’ would have been saved if the two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ had been imposed when it was recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on September 21.

Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the move would also have ‘inflicted substantially less damage’ to the economy than the new national lockdown.

Instead, the PM continued to pursue his regional approach, which will last until Thursday.

People will be allowed to exercise and socialise in outdoor public spaces with their household or one other person, while schools, colleges and nurseries will stay open under the new lockdown. 

More than 150,000 teaching staff have now called for schools to be closed as experts warned there is ‘substantial transmission’ in secondary schools.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the measures would create a ‘bleak midwinter’ and would be ‘truly devastating for business’.

Mr Johnson also faced growing unrest from his own MPs, who are angry over the economic impact of a new shutdown and the limits on personal freedom.

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