The UK has recorded its highest ever daily number of coronavirus cases and the largest number of deaths since July 1, increasing strains within the Conservative party over how to respond to the resurgence of Covid-19.
Boris Johnson is under pressure from some Tory MPs to take a more “proportionate” approach to new coronavirus restrictions, amid claims that his scientific advisers are engaged in “project fear”.
But the prime minister will on Wednesday host a press conference with Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, who are urging tougher measures to contain the virus.
Mr Johnson has said he is ready to tighten restrictions further, although some ministers are sceptical and on Tuesday he apologised after he was unable to properly explain existing rules on social mixing in north-east England.
Meanwhile, his team were putting the finishing touches to a peace deal with more than 50 rebel Conservative MPs who are demanding a House of Commons vote on future lockdown measures.
Pressure on Mr Johnson to tighten national restrictions grew with news that the UK had recorded 7,143 new coronavirus cases in the latest 24 hour period, compared to 4,926 on the previous Tuesday.
Although the number of confirmed cases reflects a huge increase in testing since the early days of the pandemic, a total of 71 coronavirus-related deaths were also recorded in the latest daily data — the highest figure since July 1.
The rising death toll comes amid calls from some Tory MPs for Mr Johnson to hold back from introducing new national restrictions.
Conservative MP Desmond Swayne claimed this week that Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick were engaged in “project fear”.
MPs will vote on Wednesday on a parliamentary motion to renew the government’s emergency coronavirus powers.
To allay Conservative concerns about new restrictions at a local and national level, Mr Johnson offered rebel Tories the prospect of a vote ahead of significant new measures.
Although Conservatives said the talks, led by leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, were “in the weeds”, one option would let Mr Johnson introduce new rules in an emergency scenario, with a Commons vote later to approve them.
The granting of new powers to parliament to approve Covid-19 restrictions would be a victory for backbench Conservative MPs. Efforts to secure them have been led by Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs.
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But the move would impose more parliamentary shackles on Mr Johnson than those faced by most of his European counterparts.
French president Emmanuel Macron has exerted great power in the crisis, while in Germany coronavirus restrictions were agreed by the federal government in conjunction with the country’s regional administrations.
Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte has the power to issue decrees relating to the emergency, meaning he does not require most individual measures to be passed by lawmakers.
Separately the UK’s biggest pub operators and breweries wrote to Downing Street warning that the sector would not survive “this bleakest of winters” and that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost following the end of the government’s furlough scheme next month.
The letter, signed by Greene King, Diageo and Budweiser, among others, asked for the government to review newly imposed restrictions on hospitality, including a 10pm curfew, every three weeks and remove them if they are not proven to curb the spread of the virus.
Data from Public Health England show that in the past week just 3 per cent of cases have been caused by transmission in restaurants, compared to 44 per cent in schools and universities and 25 per cent in care homes.
The letter by pub operators and breweries also said chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest support package would not be enough to stave off widespread job losses.
It called for a new package of government grants for companies facing restrictions, a cut in beer duty and an extension of relief from value added tax and business rates.