British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new lockdown in England – a move to alert Level 5 from midnight (local time) tonight – in an address to the nation from Downing Street.
Alert Level 5 means that “there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”, the virus is circulating and transmission is high or rising exponentially.
“Since the pandemic began last year, the whole UK engaged in a national effort to fight Covid,” Johnson began.
“The collective efforts would have continued to work but we now have a new variant.”
The new variant is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible, Johnson said, and hospitals are under more pressure than at any time since start of pandemic.
“It’s clear we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control,” Johnson said.
“In England we must go into a national lockdown.”
This will mean that residents may only leave home in limited circumstances, including to get medical treatment or escape domestic abuse.
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All schools must move to remote provision from tomorrow and school exams will not go ahead as planned.
The UK’s chief medical officers advised today that the country should move to alert Level 5. If not, Johnson said, hospitals could be overwhelmed within 21 days.
He said that by mid-February, if things go well, it was expected that vaccines would have been offered to everyone in four priority groups: All rest-home residents, everyone over 70, all frontline health workers and all clinically vulnerable people.
“If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus and that will enable us to lift the restrictions we’ve endured for so long,” Johnson said.
The Prime Minister said he understood the frustration of the public, but “now more than ever” it was time to pull together.
“This is pivotal moment. The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe we are entering the last phase of the struggle.
“Thanks to miracle of science, not only is the end in sight but we know how to get there.
“For now, you must stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
Earlier, a UK Government spokesman said the nation had no choice but to take “further steps”.
“The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country,” the spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Johnson’s statement comes after he warned that there were “tough, tough” weeks to come during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London.
The move to alert level 5 is a first for the UK.
During the March lockdown, the UK was considered to be at level 4.
Meanwhile in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced the country will be placed in lockdown for the entirety of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home.
Schools will be closed to almost all students until February 1; people may only leave their homes for essential reasons; can meet outdoors in groups of just two; and may not travel in or out of Scotland except for essential purposes.
Elsewhere around the world:
• The Catalonia region in Spain tightened restrictions and Germany looks set to agree to extend its lockdown until January 31.
• The European Commission is in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech about the possibility of ordering more vaccine doses.
• In France, President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly furious at the slow rollout of the vaccine – just 516 vaccinations were reported to have been given in the first week. The health minister insisted that “several thousand” people will be vaccinated today.
• Colombia’s capital, Bogota, will implement strict two-week quarantines in three neighbourhoods beginning tomorrow to try to control a second wave.
• Japan said it would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area as cases climb, casting news doubts over whether it can push ahead with the Olympics and minimise economic damage.
• Coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of the 2020 aid response are exacerbating hunger in Yemen.
A leading UN figure warns that the poorest and most crisis-hit countries on earth could remain “stuck” in pandemic crisis mode until at least 2023 unless more is done to provide aid and vaccines.
That means that the devastating knock-on effects of Covid-19 – including the risk of famine in a number of countries – will also be prolonged and intensified, said UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “Suppose the better-off world gradually comes out of this challenge… how do we make sure that the very poorest countries, where humanitarian agencies work, don’t just get stuck?
“That’s going to be one of the big challenges for 2021, and 2022, and 2023.”
At the moment, Lowcock said, the actions of the richer world risks prolonging the crisis, rather than ending it.
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