Gove says tough tiers will protect NHS, as Johnson appoints vaccine rollout minister

by Reuters
Saturday, 28 November 2020 17:16 GMT

* Government seeks lawmaker backing for new restrictions

* Gove warns hospitals will be overwhelmed without measures

* PM says Nadhim Zahawi to oversee vaccine roll-out

* UK regulator to approve Pfizer vaccine next week - FT

* Over 60 arrests at anti-lockdown protests in London (Adds Zahawi appointment, expected vaccine approval, protests)

By Sarah Young

LONDON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - England needs tough restrictions after its current lockdown ends if hospitals are not to become overwhelmed, a senior minister said Saturday, as the government prepares for a mass vaccine roll-out.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson named Nadhim Zahawi as a new health minister to oversee the deployment of the vaccine as the Financial Times reported that the UK is set to approve the BioNTech Pfizer vaccine next week.

But despite progress with the vaccine, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said tough measures were still necessary to fight the disease after the current national lockdown ends on Dec. 2.

Writing in The Times, Gove warned that without further restrictions on most of England's population hospitals would be overwhelmed. He urged lawmakers to back government plans in a vote next week.

More than 20 million people across large swathes of England will be forced to live under the toughest tier of cornavirus restrictions.

A growing number of lawmakers in Johnson's Conservative party have voiced opposition to the tiered restrictions plan.

Some argue that the areas they represent have low infection rates but face the toughest rules, while others say the new measures will cause unnecessary economic harm to local businesses.

There is also some public opposition to the restrictions. Police in central London said they made over 60 arrests during anti-lockdown demonstrations on Saturday.

Gove said the level of infection across the country remained "uncomfortably and threateningly high." He noted that the number of hospital beds filled with infected patients was not far from its peak earlier in the year.

From the current high base, the National Health Service would be under severe threat if infections started to rise again and tougher measures were needed to manage the virus, he said.

"These new tiers, alongside the wider deployment of mass testing, have the capacity to prevent our NHS being overwhelmed until vaccines arrive," said Gove. (Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Mike Harrison)

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