A quiet Oxford Street in London yesterday (Image: PA)
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MPs are set to back England’s third lockdown tonight in a shutdown that could legally last until March 31.
Boris Johnson has vowed to review restrictions in mid-February and hopes to return to a tier system after seven weeks, from February 22.
But the small print of the law – which already came into effect at midnight and is being approved retrospectively – shows it could last longer.
While Health Secretary Matt Hancock must review the rules at least every two weeks, he’ll have the power to keep them until March 31.
A government official told the FT: “Let’s be honest, it’s probably going to run till Easter.”
And the Prime Minister told Tory MPs things would be better by the end of “tulip season” or even “daffodil season” in a call last night.
Boris Johnson has vowed to review the restrictions after seven weeks, by February 22
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According to the Spectator, this led to MPs frantically looking up the seasons for each type of flower on Google to understand what he meant.
But Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, insisted the country could emerge from the lockdown in mid-February.
He told the BBC: "I think it's possible. That's obviously a Government decision what they decided to do at what point.
“But it really depends upon what happens over the next five weeks in terms of the infection rates – it's much like in March and April.
One in 50 people in the community in England are now thought to have Covid-19
“We know more now but nonetheless we're still looking at the epidemic increasing and looking for that peak and hoping it happens soon."
The new lockdown will be enforced through a new law called the Health Protection ( Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.
Legally speaking, the law puts all of England into Tier 4 and tightens up the rules for that Tier 4 – with police able to issue £200 fines.
People must stay at home and may only leave if they have a “reasonable excuse” such as food shopping, exercise or a medical appointment.
While people are urged to take exercise only once per day, that is not a legal requirement.
Other parts of the Tier 4 rules have been toughened up however. Zoos and animal attractions must shut and takeaway pints are banned.
PCSOs have also been granted the same powers as police officers to enforce more of the lockdown-related laws.
Cases are rising in many parts of the country
Boris Johnson was outlining to the Commons this morning why tougher curbs are needed to try and halt the spread of Covid-19, with one in 50 people in England.
Data from the Office for National Statistics suggested 1.1 million people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2.
MPs have been recalled from the Christmas recess for a second time in a week, having been asked to vote on the Government's Brexit trade deal on December 30.
The seven-week lockdown became law in the early hours of today but MPs are due to formally vote on the measures.
Labour is backing the move and the Prime Minister is set to to secure a thumping majority when a vote happens at 7pm.
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Gym owner who refused to close business during lockdown infected with coronavirus
Police officers have been instructed to issue fines for 'obvious, wilful and serious breaches' in London
(Image: NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Mr Johnson is expected to be hit with a minor revolt by some Tory backbenchers uneasy that restrictions could last until the end of March – even though a formal review is due in mid-February.
It came as new figures showed one in four deaths in England and Wales registered in the week leading up to Christmas involved coronavirus.
There were 11,520 deaths registered in the week ending December 25, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Of these, 2,912 (25.3%) mentioned "novel coronavirus" on the death certificate.
The number of registered coronavirus deaths and deaths from all causes both fell compared with the previous week.
The ONS said the figures for the most recent week should be interpreted with caution as they had been affected by the Christmas Day bank holiday.
Senior officers warn people could be stopped by police to explain why they are away from home during the latest coronavirus lockdown.
The Metropolitan Police said the public should expect officers to be more "inquisitive" about why they are "out and about”.
Londoners breaching Covid legislation "are increasingly likely to face fines", the force said in a statement.