The prime minister knew that he couldn’t run the English national lockdown beyond 2 December.
He might have a majority of 80, but had he tried to extend this four-week lockdown his restive party would have not just deserted him but denounced him too, leaving his already troubled premiership in even deeper peril.
Instead then, the prime minister announced on Monday a COVID Winter Plan with a new tiered system.
Concessions were offered to those in his party and his cabinet anxious about the economic and social fall-out of measures: shops, gyms and hair and beauty salons open across all tiers while the 10pm curfew will be extended to 11pm – measures to help the high street in the run-up to Christmas.
But if the prime minister gave with one hand, he took with the other. The pay-off for exiting an English lockdown and having some loosening of restrictions for a few days around Christmas is that the tiers we’ll be living under are tougher and lasting for longer.
The hard road ahead stretches past Christmas, the New Year and first three months of 2012 to Easter on 4 April.
These measures are hard for the public to accept and are being resisted by MPs. At least 70 of Boris Johnson’s own backbenchers are deeply unhappy with the package of measures and demanding that the government publish cost-benefit analysis for each restriction the government proposes to introduce.
As one rebel told me on Monday evening: “MPs are going to be wrestling with this until we get to a vote. The problem the PM’s got is that the public have worked out that if you’re under 60 this disease is not especially dangerous.
“Young people are losing a year of their lives and facing dreadful economic prospects…it’s extremely hard to see how he’ll get me over the line.”
And that controversy could well grow, not just in Parliament but around the country later when on Thursday the government outlines which parts of the country are in which tiers.
The prime minister himself admitted on Monday that the tiers were tougher and more of the country would be in the higher bands.
This will be a battleground, with the decision on which areas are put where taken at cabinet level by the Health Secretary with advice from the Chief Medical Officer, taking into account the number of cases in the over 60s, local pressure on the NHS and the local R number.. There will be no negotiation with local authorities.
MPs and local leaders and businesses will be looking on in dread at the prospect of going back in Tier 3, which looks rather like lockdown now, with bars, restaurants, museums, galleries and other indoor entertainment all closed. And any mixing outside your household limited to parks and public spaces.
Labour have yet to publicly commit to supporting the measures. They, like many of Mr Johnson’s own MPs are waiting to see more detail of the tier system and what economic support measures will be put in place.
It will be quite something if the prime minister’s four-month COVID Winter Plan gets passed on the back of Labour votes rather than Conservative ones – a reflection of the deep divisions in his party over the handling of the second wave of this pandemic.
There is at least in all this some hope for spring with the prospect of three new vaccines on the horizon.
But between then and now is a hard winter for our economy as well as our quality of life.
And while the public health outlook will turn the corner when the seasons change, the economy will pay the price. No wonder the prime minister will have a hard job politically to get these measures across the line.