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UK Conservative MPs revolt against Johnson over COVID curbs

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during a press conference for the latest COVID-19 update in the Downing Street briefing room in central London on December 8, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received a stinging blow after Conservative lawmakers voted against his new coronavirus restrictions.

Johnson faced the largest ever rebellion against his authority on Tuesday after 97 members of his own party rejected his proposed COVID measures.

The revolting Tories defied the party line and voted against the new rule requiring COVID passes for entry to venues such as nightclubs and sports stadiums.

The evening vote in the House of Commons was the largest backlash Johnson has faced from within his own ranks, putting him under further pressure after a string of recent scandals.

Many MPs from Johnson's own party believe the new restrictions are excessive and undermine basic freedoms.

Tory MPs opposed to the new restrictions say the administration is imposing "disproportionate" curbs based on incomplete evidence that will invariably lead to further measures.

One Tory lawmaker compared the government's introduction of mandatory health passes in certain settings to restrictive measures enforced in Nazi Germany.

However, the new COVID curbs still gained the majority needed and were passed by the MPs as a whole. Tory MPs have an 80-seat majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, told British media that a leadership challenge in 2022 had "got to be on the cards."

Johnson, whose popularity has been dropping in opinion polls, has faced open calls to quit because of reports that he and staff broke coronavirus rules at Downing Street last Christmas.

That added to claims of cronyism and corruption after reports that the government handed wealthy Tory donors plum seats in the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords.

The evening vote came after UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that the new coronavirus variant Omicron was "a grave threat" requiring new restrictive measures.

"They are measures that I think the situation demands because when the facts change, our response must change too," he said.

"There really is no time to lose," Javid added, noting scientists had predicted the true figure of those already infected in Britain could be as high as 200,000 a day.

Johnson's administration will now introduce new measures for mask-wearing, daily testing to avoid isolation and vaccine passes.

The English Premier League said there had been a record number of positives over the past week, reporting a record caseload on Monday and requiring players and club staff to take a lateral flow test every day to get into training grounds.

Meanwhile, Europe is the global coronavirus hotspot, recording 62 percent of the world's total cases in the past seven days, while the five countries with the world's highest infection rates are all European.

The Netherlands followed other European nations in reintroducing restrictions on Tuesday as Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced primary schools will shut next week and a night-time lockdown will be extended over Omicron fears.

Schools will close from December 20 instead of December 25 due to concerns that children, among whom infection rates are the highest, could spread the coronavirus to older family members.

France on Tuesday registered 63,405 new coronavirus infections -- its highest daily total since April -- even with more than 77 percent of its population having had at least one jab.

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