UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a press conference at 10 Downing Street in central London on December 24, 2020 to brief the nation on the post-Brexit trade deal.
Paul Grover | AFP | Getty Images
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said England was passing a national lockdown which he hopes is tough enough to hold a new, highly contagious variant of Covid-19 in.
People can only leave their homes to shop for essentials, work when they cannot be from home, play sports, see a doctor and escape domestic violence, he said in an announcement on Monday evening. Elementary schools, secondary schools and colleges will also switch to distance learning on Tuesday, except in rare cases, he said.
“I understand the inconvenience and hardship this change will cause millions of people and parents across the country,” said Johnson. “The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children … the problem is that schools can act as transmission vectors, causing the virus to spread between households.”
The UK chief medical officers recommended that the country move to alert level 5. If the country doesn’t take action, the National Health Service could “be overwhelmed in 21 days,” Johnson said.
The changes come as the UK grapples with a more transferable variant of Covid-19. To date, the country has recorded over 2.6 million cases of coronavirus and more than 75,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The UK recorded 58,784 new cases on Monday and has now reported more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for seven days in a row.
“The number of deaths has risen by 20% in the last week and will unfortunately continue to rise. … With most of the country already facing extreme measures, it is clear that together we must do more to get this new variant under Bringing Control Our vaccines are being introduced, “Johnson said, noting that the mutated strain is estimated to be 50 to 70% more contagious.
Johnson warned earlier Monday that Britain had “tough, tough weeks” ahead of it and that there was “no question” that tougher measures would be implemented.
Before the announcement, more than three-quarters of England lived under the toughest of restrictions.
On Monday afternoon, Scottish head of state Nicola Sturgeon announced a new order for citizens of the country to stay at home from midnight. Schools in Scotland will be closed until early February.
UK Labor leader Keir Starmer tweeted on Sunday that Johnson “must put national restrictions in place within the next 24 hours”.
Coronavirus vaccines are the only bright spot in a pandemic that continues to rage across the UK and much of the West. The UK began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, after the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine began using it in December.
“There is a big difference from last year. We are now launching the largest vaccination program in our history,” said Johnson.
If things go well, Johnson said everyone in the top four priority groups should get their first shot of the two-dose vaccines by mid-February. This includes nursing home residents and their caregivers, anyone over 70, all frontline health and social workers, and anyone who is clinically at risk, he said.
“If we can manage to vaccinate all of these groups we will have removed large numbers of people from the path of the virus. And of course that will allow us to lift many of the restrictions we have been through for so long,” he said.
The country might consider reopening schools after the February half-year if the vaccine rollout continues to go well, deaths fall and “everyone does their part to keep the rules”.
He said the coming weeks will be the toughest, “but I really believe we are entering the final phase of the fight because with every push that goes into our arms, the odds against Covid and in favor of the British are tilting” , he said. “I know how hard it is, and I know how frustrated you are, and I know you had more than enough government guidance on how to fight this virus. But now, more than ever, we need to pull ourselves together.”
The UK government has decided to introduce a 12 week delay between the first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccines Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca in order to cover as large a segment of the population as possible.
The UK’s independent scientific advisory group on emergencies said Sunday that it was in favor of the move under certain conditions. However, the British Medical Association criticized the UK’s decision to postpone the second dose.