UK leader touts local virus rules but pubs are in distress

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Parliament in London, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Members of Parliament will vote later Tuesday on the proposed tier system as the country prepares to come out of lockdown. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON – British lawmakers voted Tuesday to approve new coronavirus restrictions in England to take effect within hours, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced substantial opposition from within his Conservative Party over the measures' economic impact.

England’s current four-week national lockdown ends at midnight, and Parliament needed to sign off on the replacement, a three-tier regional system based on the severity of the outbreak in different parts of the country. Critics say the measures will devastate businesses, especially pubs, which face some of the tightest restrictions.

Johnson urged legislators to back the measures, saying the country must “hold our nerve” until vaccines are approved and distributed.

But dozens of Conservatives abstained or voted against him as the new regulations were approved by a 291-78 vote in the House of Commons. The main opposition parties abstained.

Starting Wednesday, most of the country will be put into the upper two tiers where shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and places of worship can reopen. But pubs and restaurants face strict limits in Tier 2 and closure in the topmost Tier 3.

Johnson told the House of Commons that a lockdown imposed on Nov. 5 had succeeded in levelling off the coronavirus infection rate in England, but that there was “a compelling necessity” for further restrictions.

“What we cannot do is lift all of the restrictions at once, or move too quickly, in such a way that the virus would begin to spread rapidly again,” triggering a new lockdown in January, he said.

The new measures are to be reviewed every two weeks and restrictions will be eased for five days over Christmas so that families can get together. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are all following their own local restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.