UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night announced another national lockdown from early Wednesday following continuing spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases – the country registered over 50,000 daily infections for seven consecutive days – as the race between vaccine and the virus entered a new phase.
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 closure of schools, not venturing out of homes unless for essential reasons and working from home.
A grim-faced Johnson said: “(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 per cent more transmissible”.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic. In England alone, the number of Covid patients in hospitals has increased by nearly a third in the last week, to almost 27,000”.
“That number is 40 per cent higher than the first peak in April. On 29 December, more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK – a new record. The number of deaths is up by 20 per cent over the last week and will sadly rise further.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out. In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant. That means the Government is once again instructing you to stay at home”, he added.
This is the third nation-wide lockdown since March 2020. It was re-imposed in November, when cases rose after a dip over the summer months. The overall number of deaths in the UK is expected to reach the grim figure of 100,000 by the end of January or early February.
Two vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca have been deployed, with over 1.5 million people so far vaccinated; the UK has ordered 40 million of the former and 100 million of the latter vaccine.
The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales said that based on the latest data, the UK’s alert level moved from level 4 to level 5, which means hospitals and the health infrastructure is under “immense pressure”.
They said in a statement: “There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of Covid patients in hospitals and in intensive care. Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant”.
“We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days,” they added.