Johnson addressed the nation in a televised broadcast tonight (January 4) after Downing Street said further steps needed to be taken to address spiralling COVID-19 cases. According to the latest government figures, 58,784 new infections were recorded in the last 24 hours: the highest measured at any time during the pandemic.
England’s new lockdown – the third since the pandemic took hold last March – will see a number of stricter measures enter immediately, with new laws coming into force within the next 24 hours.
Among them is the revival of the “stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives” message. People may only leave their homes to shop for essentials, to exercise, to go to work “if you absolutely cannot work from home”, to seek medical assistance or to get a COVID test, or to escape domestic abuse.
All schools will now close nationwide and summer exams are cancelled. The government is also advising people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to begin shielding again.
The new variant of the coronavirus, Johnson said, has led to rapidly escalating case numbers. Given the alarming figures, he said it had become “clear that we need to do more” to bring the new fast-spreading variant “under control” and help the vaccination roll-out in the UK.
He added that the number of hospital patients has increased by almost a third to nearly 27,000 – almost a third higher than the peak of the first wave in April 2020.
The UK’s chief medical officers and NHS England’s medical director have also recommended that the UK COVID-19 alert level should move up to level five, the highest possible, to prevent the NHS being further overwhelmed [via BBC News].
Johnson added that there is “one huge difference” compared to the lockdown of last March.
“We are rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history,” he said. “We have vaccinated more people in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined. I can share with you tonight the NHS’ realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks. By the middle of February if things go well, and with a wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation.”
He explained that this means vaccinating care home residents and carers, all over-70s, everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, and all NHS frontline and health workers.
“We will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus,” he said. “That will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions that we have endured for so long.”
The UK Parliament will be recalled on Wednesday (January 6) in order to allow for MPs to vote on the new measures.
Johnson has said previously that there was “no question” the government would announce stricter measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The latest lockdown follows weeks of a localised tiered system, and a second lockdown in November 2020.
News of the English lockdown comes hours after it was announced that a nationwide lockdown will be introduced in Scotland from midnight tonight (January 5) in a bid to halt rising levels of coronavirus infections.