LONDON

In parliament on Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his decision to impose a national lockdown in England starting Thursday, saying he was “truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose.”

Parliament will vote on the lockdown on Wednesday. The opposition Labour Party will back the government, but some Conservative Party MPs are expected to rebel against their own prime minister.

Johnson told parliament that action must be taken to stem to the virus’ “autumn surge.”

He said the rate of infection is rising around the country, and that some hospitals have more coronavirus patients than during the first wave.

Johnson said it was right that the government tried a regional and tiered approach at first, but now there was “no alternative but to take action at a national level.”

He preemptively denied that the government was slow to act, saying “no one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential.”

“When the data changes course, we must change course too,” he said.

Johnson said that without this new national lockdown in England, the National Health Service could be overwhelmed, which would force doctors to choose which patients to treat, and limit the availability of other kinds of medical care.

This would be a “medical and moral disaster,” he said.

He ruled out increasing hospital capacity as a way to get ahead of the virus as it is “doubling faster than we could conceivably add capacity.”

Johnson said the lockdown would “expire” on Dec. 2, after which England would return to the tiered system of restrictions.

He also promised an expansion of rapid testing.

‘Failure to act early’

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said both the prime minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had failed.

He said the lesson from the first wave was “if you don’t act early, the cost will be far worse, more businesses will be forced to close and tragically, more people will lose their lives.”

Starmer said Johnson and Sunak “failed to learn this lesson and as a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be.”

He said that rather than implement a shorter, two-to-three week circuit breaker lockdown last month, as government scientists had advised, he instead put what “he hoped would happen ahead of what is happening.”

Starmer said Johnson has “overpromised and under-delivered and rejected the advice of his own scientists,” calling this a “catastrophic failure of leadership.”

He said Labour would support the vote on the lockdown, but also demand that the government “doesn’t waste these next four weeks and repeat past mistakes.”

Starmer called for the test and trace system to be fixed, as well as more financial support, especially for the self-employed.

Johnson responded by saying he made “absolutely no apology” for trying to avoid another national lockdown, adding that the country wants to see its politicians united.

Meanwhile, government data on Monday showed 18,950 new cases of people in the UK testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total to 1.05 million. There were a further 136 deaths, bringing the total to 46,853.

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