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Boris Johnson's latest coronavirus U-turn which saw the introduction of Tier 4 is analysed by political editor Paul Francis


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It was the last thing he wanted to do and the one thing he feared having to do most.

Just days after saying that it would be inhuman to make changes to the easing of restrictions over Christmas, Boris Johnson did just that.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the new tier system in November
Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the new tier system in November

In the latest of a growing list of U-turns, he burst the bubble that was supposed to provide respite from the debilitating Covid-19 lockdown.

The warnings over the potential for the virus variant to wreak havoc over Kent and the South East could not have been more stark.

When the government’s chief scientist Chris Whitty was asked what he would say to someone who was just about to pack their bag and travel to the area, he said his advice would be to begin unpacking.

He was equally uncompromising when asked whether he would catch a train to Kent. “Only if it was absolutely necessary.”

As for the Prime Minister, he cast a downbeat figure and no wonder.

The government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty
The government's chief medical officer Chris Whitty

He was being forced to go back on commitments that had offered families a brief respite; a taste of normality; a chance to forget the fact that we are in the midst of an energy sapping global flu pandemic.

He said he was acting with “a heavy heart” and at the press briefing yesterday was noticeably discomfited as he tried to fend off questions about the tougher lockdown. It is a long way from his declaration in March that the virus would be sent packing in 12 weeks.

Even the euphoria at the news of a successful vaccine seemed distant.

Inevitably the news has drawn a mixed reaction from MPs in Kent.

The Thanet South MP Craig Mackinlay is among those that believe the new measures warrant a recall of Parliament.

MP for Thanet South Craig Mackinlay
MP for Thanet South Craig Mackinlay

He took a similar view when the decision was taken to place Kent into tier three measures.

He tweeted yesterday: “I appreciate the government has to act fast in some instances but the new Tier4, what it means & why, must be debated and voted upon. There is no option but to #RecallParliament.”

While no-one would dissent from the importance of the executive being subjected to checks and balances and scrutiny, if that meant a delay in imposing the new restrictions, and a delay that meant more people were catching the virus, MPs might find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion.

There will be valid questions to ask about whether the government response has been proportionate to the threat posed by the new variant.

Equally, there will, in time, be questions about whether the government failed to act when it should have done when the rate of infections in Kent began to spiral.

Central to those questions will be when the government first knew about the new strain.

But for now, the priority has to be the focus on what needs to be done on the medical frontline to curb the spread of the virus in all its forms.

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