The prime minister, Boris Johnson has ducked questions on whether lockdown restrictions will be lifted on December 2 even if the rate of coronavirus infection is climbing.
The comments, made at prime minister's questions, came before parliament overwhelmingly voted to back Johnson's four-week national lockdown for England last night.
MPs passed the regulations passed very comfortably by 516 to 38, despite a rebellion by several Conservative MPs against the motion, which has forced pubs, shops, leisure and entertainment venues to close as of today.
Those opposing the measure included Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, who criticised the scientific basis for his decision to tell people to stay in their homes. “It looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures,” she said.
Yesterday chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the lockdown is intended to bring the coronavirus R-rate – which indicates how fast infections are spreading – below one.
But Johnson repeatedly refused to confirm whether he plans to ease the lockdown restrictions after 2 December if the R-rate has not dropped enough.
"It is thanks to the efforts of the British people that the R is now currently only just above one as it as it is.
"And we are doing the right and the prudent thing at the right time to get that infection rate down and these measures, as I've said repeatedly... will expire on 2 December."
He said it would be up to the House of Commons to decide "thereafter, what to do", but that he hoped shops would be able to open again in the run up to Christmas.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said it would be "madness" to return to the former three-tier system of regional restrictions once the lockdown expired.
"We all know the one thing that the tier system can't cope with is an R-rate above one," he said.
Starmer also challenged prime minister on the test and trace programme, claiming that latest figures show that 113,000 contacts were not reached over a period of a week and only 20% of those who should be self-isolating are doing so. He said the lockdown gave the government four weeks to fix those problems.
Summing up the debate on the coronavirus measures in the House of Commons later in the day, health secretary Matt Hancock said: "Ultimately this comes to a very significant judgment. It comes to a judgment about how we best-manage a nation and lead a nation through an incredibly difficult period, with a pandemic of a virus which exists only to multiply.”
He added: ”So in ordinary times, these measures would be unimaginable, but these are not ordinary times”
"While we support every person and with everything we've got, support the science that with increasing confidence each day I know will help us to find a better way through."