LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged his Conservative Party lawmakers to back the government's tier-based COVID-19 lockdown in a Parliament vote in a letter stressing that there "a sunset" clause - or expiry date - of February 3 on the latest restrictions.
In an attempt to curb a growing rebellion within his own ranks against the new measures which face a House of Commons vote next Tuesday, Johnson wrote on Saturday evening that the tiers will be reviewed every two weeks, and areas can move down the tiers from mid-December.
"Regulations have a sunset of 3 February. After the fourth fortnightly review (27 January), Parliament will have another vote on the tiered approach, determining whether the measures stay in place until the end of March," he wrote.
In his attempt to placate angry MPs opposed to further lockdowns, he also committed to publish more data and outline what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the measures taken to suppress coronavirus.
Most of England's population is set to fall under the two toughest tiers when the second national lockdown ends on December 2.
Around 32 million people - covering 57.3 per cent of England and including London - will fall into Tier 2 or high alert level which means the rule of six applies with up to six members of different households allowed to meet outdoors.
Hospitality venues are allowed to open but operate under these strict rules, with dining indoors restricted to single households and support bubbles and alcohol sale permitted only with a substantial meal.
Besides, some 23.3 million people - or 41.5 per cent of the population - are going to be placed in the highest alert level of Tier 3, which prohibits any mixing of households and hospitality venues allowed to open only for takeaways.
Only three regions of the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest Tier 1 controls where the rule of six applies overall and most venues are allowed to function near normally.
The further tough measures after four weeks of a stay-at-home lockdown has triggered a backlash among Johnson's own Tory MPs and the changes could now face a fight in Parliament after the Opposition Labour Party remains undecided and may abstain in the vote on Tuesday.
The Cabinet has been rallying around to try and ensure the latest measures to curb the spread of coronavirus infections clears the Commons hurdle. "There's a risk of that if we don't get the balance right," said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, when asked if the government fears a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said MPs needed to "take responsibility for difficult decisions" because there is a risk of the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases over the winter months.
However, one of the backbench Tory MPs, Tobias Ellwood, pointed out that all seven Nightingale hospitals, the make-shift units built during the first wave of the pandemic, lie "largely empty", adding that military medical staff could help run them.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Steve Baker who is leading the rebellion with the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of backbenchers said they would be "glad to share in the burden of decision" as long the "information necessary to show the government's restrictions will do more good than harm" is offered in full. "It is a modest request," he said.
On Saturday, a further 479 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, bringing the total death toll from the virus to 58,030. There were also a further 15,871 positive cases registered in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the UK government appointed a new minister to specifically oversee the rollout of any COVID-19 vaccine that becomes available after clearing all regulatory checks. Nadhim Zahawi, a minister in the department for business and industry, will now serve as a joint minister for the Department of Health and Social Care as well.
"A big responsibility and a big operational challenge but absolutely committed to making sure we can roll out vaccines quickly - saving lives and livelihoods and helping us build back better," Zahawi said in a Twitter statement.
The government says it has secured a further 2 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine from US firm Moderna, which has shown to be 95 per cent effective in trials. This brings the UK's Moderna order to seven million - enough for around 3.5 million people.
Separately, the UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, which is undergoing further trials, and 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has also been shown to be 95 per cent effective.