Emergency coronavirus laws: MPs to vote on six month extension to powers as UK/EU vaccine dispute continues
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MPs will be asked today (25 March) to approve the regulations for the route out of lockdown and keep some of the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act in place until September.
The legislation for restrictions over the coming months, as the Government sets out its road map for coming out of lockdown, will see some restrictions remain in place in England until at least 21 June.
The vote comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he could see an “end” to the pandemic that would involve managing coronavirus “more like the flu” with repeated and updated vaccinations.
He told the Financial Times: “It depends what you mean by ‘end’. I see an end where Covid is managed more like flu: we repeatedly vaccinate, we update the vaccines according to mutations and we manage the challenges, especially around transmissions over winter."
‘Concerns curbs will be reintroduced in the autumn’
The vote on Thursday is likely to comfortably pass, with Labour not expected to oppose the measures.
On Sunday (21 March) prominent MP Mark Harper fuelled expectations of a Tory revolt on extending the laws by calling for a “roadmap to freedom that is based on data, not dates”.
He and other lockdown sceptics argue that the Government’s current roadmap is “almost entirely focused on dates rather than the increasingly positive data on deaths and hospital admissions” in light of the “exemplary” success of Britain’s vaccination rollout.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Harper – chairman of the informal Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs – noted Mr Johnson had said when announcing his roadmap out of lockdown that it would “guide us cautiously but irreversibly towards reclaiming our freedoms” by June 21.
“Retaining most temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act until October is not consistent with this pledge and will raise concerns that curbs will be reintroduced in the autumn,” Mr Harper wrote.
‘Say no to a checkpoint society’
Mr Harper also challenged the Government’s thinking on its roadmap to recovery, saying “reasonable people” would wonder if the Government had struck the right balance in continuing present guidelines curbing family gatherings through Easter.
“Staying with your family won’t just be illegal for Easter weekend, it will be unlawful until May 17 at the earliest – whatever the data say. The roadmap is ‘dates, not data’,” Mr Harper wrote.
Conservative MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory lockdown sceptics, said the vote was a “rare opportunity” for MPs to “say no to a new way of life in a checkpoint society”.
“I was glad to hear the Prime Minister reassure William Wragg MP at the Liaison Committee today that ‘anything that is redundant will go’ in relation to Coronavirus Act powers,” the former minister said.
Baker claimed “draconian police powers” under Schedule 21 have “a 100 per cent unlawful prosecution record”, and must be considered “redundant’ to say the very least.”
“I am seeking to table an amendment to the motion tomorrow asking ministers to suspend those powers,” he added. "I now hope the Government can support it.”
‘A win-win deal’
On the continent, EU leaders are set to discuss proposals aimed at tightening restrictions on vaccine exports at a virtual European Council summit, after London and Brussels moved to calm tensions following weeks of ramped up rhetoric.
A joint statement said the two sides were seeking a “win-win” deal to increase supplies across the UK and EU as the bloc’s dispute with AstraZeneca continued.
Amid production delays and questions about the effectiveness of its shot, AstraZeneca said in a statement early on Thursday its vaccine has 76 per cent efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 and is 100 per cent effective against severe or critical disease and hospitalisation due to coronavirus.
It comes after the European Commission set out a tougher regime to stem supplies of jabs to nations faring better in the pandemic as the bloc’s states faced a third wave of cases.
The move could result in supplies of vaccines from the EU to the UK being blocked unless shipments of AstraZeneca jabs also travel from Britain to the continent.
Boris Johnson warned that a “blockade” on vaccines could result in “long-term” damage but said he continued to work with his European partners.