MPs have overwhelmingly voted to approve the government’s new coronavirus regulations despite a small Conservative rebellion.
Just 23 MPs voted against new rules, which include a requirement to wear masks on public transport and in shops.
The move was supported by 434 MPs, a majority of 411, after being backed by all parties. All those who voted against were Conservatives or from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
It comes after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that eight further cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been confirmed in England, bringing the total number in the country to 13.
Boris Johnson said over the weekend that a “tightening up” of rules was needed “to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK”. The new measures include new testing requirements for travel as well as the mask mandate.
But some MPs from the prime minister’s party spoke out against the rule changes during a parliamentary debate on Tuesday.
“This is a fundamental choice, I would say, between heading towards heaven and heading towards hell,” said Tory MP Steve Baker.
“If we continue to react to these fears and uncertainties by taking the authoritarian course, without impact assessments, because they're only temporary, you know, then we are embarked on that downward course.
“The public are not fools. We’re not here to govern idiots. I have faith in the British public. I have faith that they can choose for themselves to do the right thing.”
Defending the regulations, health minister Maggie Throup told MPs: “We have set out proportionate and balanced measures which do not include limiting socialising. It is the Government that sets policy and guidance which is what the public should follow. The virus is fighting back and we must respond.
“To those who say that the regulations we have debated here – the reintroduction of face coverings in some settings and self-isolation requirements for close contacts – are an imposition on our liberties, I agree, but they are a necessary imposition to slow the spread of the new variant and allow science to catch up. However, there is a balance to be struck.
“For those who say that the regulations we have debated here are not enough, I say that they will buy us time to understand this new variant better, that is why they will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.”
The Tory rebels to vote against the Covid protections were Steve Baker, Graham Brady, Andrew Bridgen, Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Jackie Doyle-Price, Richard Drax, Mark Francois, Chris Green, Mark Jenkinson, Pauline Latham, Andrew Lewer, Karl McCartney, Esther McVey, Andrew Percy, Greg Smith, Robert Syms, Charles Walker, and William Wragg.
Scientists say they know little for sure about the new Covid-19 variant, but that there are indications it may bypass existing vaccine protections and spread more rapidly through the population.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said: “It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.
“That’s why it’s critical that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”
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