Boris Johnson has announced a new national lockdown stay at home order to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis.
The Prime Minister announced school closures, tough rules limiting when residents in England can leave home and warned the NHS was at its worst point in fight against Covid-19 so far.
But he also suggested there was hope now – unlike when the first lockdown started in March 2020 – because of the vaccine.
What Boris Johnson said
Mr Johnson said: “Our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic.”
He said in England alone, patient numbers had increased by nearly a third in the last week.
The number of deaths is also up by 20 per cent in the last week, the PM added.
“It’s clear we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control,” Mr Johnson said.
He said in England, a new national lockdown was again needed.
Medical assistance, exercise, escaping domestic abuse, and essential work, are some of the reasons people will be allowed to leave home, the Prime Minister made clear.
Mr Johnson said clinically vulnerable people should again start ‘shielding’ and avoiding contact with others.
He also signalled the return of home schooling. This would mean it would not be “fair” for exams to go ahead this summer. He also said free school meals would continue while schools are closed.
“I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this will cause”, Mr Johnson said, addressing the late notice for parents and pupils.
He said he had been trying to keep schools open.
Schools are not unsafe, he said, but schools may “nonetheless act as vectors for transmission”.
He added: “The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet.”
We should follow the new rules straightaway, he said, but they would become law on Wednesday morning (January 6) after Parliament debates the measures on Tuesday (January 5).
Why PM chose another lockdown
The latest figures showed a further 407 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday and there were a record 58,784 more lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
In Wiltshire, cases continue to rise, with several areas labelled as ‘hotspots’ on the latest Government coronavirus map.
Salisbury District Hospital now has more than 70 Covid patients – more than it had at any time during the first peak of the pandemic in March, April and May last year.
The number of deaths at the hospital has also increased.
Boris Johnson first hinted on Sunday, in an interview with Andrew Marr, that tougher measures were likely to be needed soon.
But after Labour leader, Keir Starmer, called for a new national shutdown at the weekend, and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced her own nationwide lockdown today (January 4), the Prime Minister has chosen to act, too.
The Welsh Government also took steps, announcing schools would remain shut until at least January 18.
Former Conservative health secretary and chair of the health select committee in Parliament, Jeremy Hunt, had also called for action “right away” on Monday – urging the PM to impose travel bans, school closures and limit household mixing.
Mr Hunt said there was no point in any further delay.
What happens next?
Parliament has been recalled early to debate the measures announced by Boris Johnson on Tuesday (January 5).
A No 10 spokesman said: “The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
“The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Elsewhere, the first doses of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were administered to patients in the UK today (January 4).
Some experts fear a national lockdown may need to last until at least March, while the rollout of the vaccine continues to protect the most vulnerable.
There also concerns a new variant of the virus, detected in South Africa, may be resistant to the vaccine – but it is too soon to tell either way.