Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca.
The development comes as the UK has continued to register more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases for seven days in a row even as the nation has begun vaccination to immunize the population against the infectious disease.
The UK has deployed vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca for the immunization drive against Covid-19. It has already inoculated 1.5 million people so far and has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer and 100 million of the Oxford vaccines.
Johnson said in an address to the nation that the variant has been spreading at an “alarming rate”, which makes another lockdown imperative. The restrictions with the main message to ‘stay at home’ will last from early Wednesday for six weeks, he said, adding that they include the closure of schools, not venturing out of homes unless for essential reasons, and working from home.
Johnson said with a grim-face “We now have a new variant of the virus. It has been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading. Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50 and 70 percent more transmissible”.
Guidelines of the Lockdown:
From Tuesday, primary and secondary schools and colleges will be closed for face-to-face learning except for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February. People were told to work from home unless it’s impossible to do so, and leave home only for essential trips.
All nonessential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only operate takeout services.
As of Monday, there were 26,626 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England, an increase of more than 30% from a week ago. That is 40% above the highest level of the first wave in the spring.
The U.K.’s chief medical officers warned that without further action, “there is a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
London and large areas of southeast England were put under the highest level of restrictions in mid-December, and more regions soon joined them.
But it soon became clear that the regional approach wasn’t working to tamp down the spread of the virus, and critics have been clamoring for a tougher national lockdown.
And while schools in London were already closed due to high infection rates in the capital, Johnson had said that students in many parts of the country could return to classrooms on Monday after the Christmas holidays, to the dismay of teachers’ unions.
“We are relieved the government has finally bowed to the inevitable and agreed to move schools and colleges to remote education in response to alarming COVID infection rates,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.