LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted Wednesday that a looming new coronavirus lockdown for England would end “automatically” in four weeks, as he tried to placate party critics over the spiralling economic fallout.

Following a first lockdown in March, the second round of restrictions will come into effect Thursday, but Johnson told parliament the measures would be lifted in time to give England the chance of a more normal Christmas.

Last weekend, Johnson abandoned a new system of regional curbs and announced an England-wide lockdown after dire warnings that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

Senior minister Michael Gove then indicated the lockdown could last beyond a December 2 cut-off if it failed to bring infection rates down.

And the leader of the main opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, told Johnson in parliament that it would be “madness” to end the measures on schedule if cases are still rising.

But the prime minister pointed to plans to launch Friday a city-wide testing pilot scheme in Liverpool as a precursor to a nationwide programme, and said the lockdown would “end automatically on December 2”.

“We will then, I hope very much, be able to get this country going again, to get businesses, to get shops open again in the run-up to Christmas,” Johnson said.

Britain is among the world’s hardest-hit countries with nearly 48,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus from just over one million positive cases.

A total of 492 deaths, within 28 days of a positive test, were recorded on Wednesday — the highest since mid-May.

England will join the other nations of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — in imposing another lockdown, in line with European nations including France and Germany.

“When I look at what is happening now among some of our continental friends, and I see doctors who have tested positive being ordered to work on COVID wards and patients airlifted to hospital in some other countries simply to make space, I can reach only one conclusion,” Johnson said.

“I’m not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people.”

The English lockdown measures include a return to working from home where possible and the closure of all non-essential shops and services, including pubs, bars and restaurants.

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