Coronavirus deaths could be twice that of first wave without action, Boris Johnson tells MPs

There could be twice as many coronavirus deaths over the winter compared to the first wave if action is not taken to limit the spread of the disease, the Prime Minister has warned.
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Boris Johnson addressed MPs in the Commons this afternoon to set out the measures announced over the weekend, which will see the country placed back under national lockdown from Thursday.

And he warned: “While the prevalence of the virus is worse in parts of the North, the doubling time in the South East and the Midlands is now faster than in the North West.

“Even in the South West, where incidence remains low, current projections mean they will start to run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks.

Boris Johnson speaking in the Commons. Photo: PABoris Johnson speaking in the Commons. Photo: PA
Boris Johnson speaking in the Commons. Photo: PA

“And the modelling presented by our scientists suggests that without action we could see up to twice as many deaths over the winter as we saw in the first wave.”

But he was accused of presiding over an “authoritarian, coercive state” by Tory Sir Charles Walker, who called for a written constitution to enshrine citizens rights and said he would rebel against the Government to vote against the measures on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson said: “I am truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose particularly for businesses which had just got back on their feet. Businesses across the country who had gone to such trouble to make themselves Covid secure, to install Perspex screens, to do the right thing.

“Each of these actions has helped to bring the R down and their hard work, your hard work will stand them in good stead, will stand you in good stead, but it is now clear that we must do more together.

“So the Government will continue to do everything possible to support jobs and livelihoods in the next four weeks as we have throughout. We protected almost 10 million jobs with furlough and we’re now extending the scheme throughout November.”

Mr Johnson said the self-employed would be able to now claim support for up to 80 per cent of trading profits, and that the furlough scheme would be extended.

But SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the PM had only taken the decision at the last minute, and only done so when measures would impact certain parts of the country.

It has been a point raised by MPs in the North where the Government had said just two thirds of incomes would be paid when discussing Tier 3 measures, but this has now been boosted to 80 per cent for the whole country.

Mr Johnson said: “Even though we are so much better prepared than before, with stockpiles of PPE and ventilators, the Nightingales on standby and 13,000 more nurses than last year, I’m afraid the virus is doubling faster than we can conceivably add capacity.

“Even if we doubled capacity, the gain would be consumed in a single doubling of the virus.”

And he warned of the “existential threat” to the NHS as a result of Covid-19.

He told MPs: “Let me spell out the medical and moral disaster we face. If we allow our health system to be overwhelmed, exactly as the data now suggests, then that would not only be a disaster for thousands of Covid patients, because their survival rates would fall, we would also reach a point where the NHS was no longer there for everyone.

“The sick would be turned away because there was no room in our hospitals. That sacred principle of care for anyone who needs it, whoever they are and wherever, whenever they need it, could be broken for the first time in our lives.

“Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die. And this existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, but from not focusing enough.

“If we fail to get coronavirus under control, it is the sheer weight of demand from Covid patients that would deprive others of the care they need. Cancer treatment, heart surgery, other life-saving procedures, all this could be put at risk if we do not get the virus under control.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister had “over-promised and under-delivered”.

He said Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had “failed to learn” lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.

He told the Commons: “The central lesson from the first wave of this virus was that if you don’t act early and decisively the cost will be far worse, more people will lose their jobs, more businesses will be forced to close and tragically more people will lose their loved ones.

“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor failed to learn this lesson. As a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be, at least four weeks, it will be harder – we’ve just missed half-term – and the human cost will be higher.”

He said: "The reality is that the two pillars of the Prime Minister’s strategy, the £12bn Track and Trace and regional restrictions have not only failed to stop the second wave, they’ve been swept away by it.

"At every stage the Prime Minister has been too slow and behind the curve.

"At every stage, he has pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen ahead of what is happening.

"At every stage he has over-promised and under delivered.

"Rejecting the advice of his own scientists for 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgement.

"The Prime Minister now needs to explain to the British people why he failed to act and to listen for so long."