Boris Johnson grilled by MPs ahead of more COVID restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has gone head-to-head with opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer in the UK parliament ahead of stricter coronavirus measures coming into force in some regions of the country.

Johnson on Tuesday announced Greater Manchester would be moved to the UK’s highest alert level, Tier 3, of its coronavirus lockdown strategy.

Starmer probed the leader on regional exit strategies, asking how areas could come out of Tier 3 restrictions.

Johnson firstly said it would be important to get the area’s “R number” — the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to — to 1 or below, and secondly other measures would be taken into account.

Starmer aimed a hit at the PM on workers who were struggling financially because of the new restrictions, saying he “can’t find £5 million (€5.5 million) for the people of Greater Manchester” and said the leader had taken a “grubby take it or leave it approach” in talks with regions of England.

Johnson said it was the “height of absurdity” for the Labour leader to criticise his party when he would “turn the lights out with a full national lockdown”.

The leader added he had offered Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham £60 million (€66 million), which he rejected as it was not enough, but will give the money to support workers and firms hit by going into Tier 3, via councils.

When asked if this funding would be handed out at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, the PM did not answer.

Starmer called for a “circuit breaker” — a short national lockdown — to combat rising COVID-19 cases in the country, saying schools starting half-term on Friday spelt the last chance to do this effectively.

Wales and Ireland have both recently announced such “fire-breaker lockdowns” measures.

“We are pursuing a regional approach, which is a sensible approach for this country,” Johnson said.