LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown in England on Monday, including the toughest restrictions since the pandemic began, to slow the spiral in new cases of Covid-19 on the same day the UK began rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The measures are similar to the lockdown imposed last March and include asking the public to stay home and leave for limited reasons. Outside trips are only permitted for essential shopping, exercise, Covid-19 testing, medical assistance, escaping domestic violence, and work for those unable to work from home.
Elementary schools, secondary schools and universities will also have to switch to distance learning from Tuesday.
People who don’t live together are not allowed to mingle, but support and childcare bubbles are still allowed.
In a nightly televised address, Johnson warned the weeks to come will be the toughest, but he believes the country is entering the final stage of the fight.
“I know how hard this is and I know how frustrated you are,” said Johnson. “But now, more than ever, we have to pull together.”
Johnson said people should follow the new rules that become law in the wee hours of Wednesday morning and start immediately.
The announced measures only apply to England, where Johnson sets guidelines, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – the other three countries in the UK – setting their own rules.
Earlier Monday, Scotland had announced a full, statutory lockdown, ordering people to stay at home in January except for essential purposes.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we are facing now than I have been since March,” said Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The UK topped 50,000 new cases a day for seven days in a row and recorded 58,784 new cases on Monday. This is the highest since the pandemic began, as its publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) is under tremendous pressure from increasing hospital stays.
The surge is likely caused by a new and more transmissible variant of the virus, first spotted in England in November, which prompted the government to tighten restrictions before Christmas.
Much of England was already living under the harshest constraints of a four-tier system of regional regulations.
Just hours before Johnson’s announcement, the country’s medical chiefs have taken the UK’s Covid-19 warning to the highest level, stating that, without further action, “there is a significant risk that the NHS will be at significant risk in multiple areas for the next 21 days is overwhelmed “.
Johnson’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new coronavirus variant was harder to control and that the old animal system in England was “no longer strong enough”.
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Also on Monday, the UK began administering the vaccine made by UK drug maker AstraZeneca and Oxford University, with more than half a million doses ready to be dispensed.
Visiting a London hospital to see health workers receiving the vaccine, Johnson said earlier Monday that there was no question the government needed to take stricter measures to fight the virus, warning of “tough, tough” to come Weeks.
He also promised that the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses will be tens of millions by the end of March. There are 67 million people in the UK.
Last month, the UK became the first country to administer the BioNTech Pfizer approved vaccine.
Since then, there has been confusion in the UK over vaccine allocation. The UK government has chosen to give as many people as possible a first dose of a vaccine rather than a second dose, which has been a concern for some experts in clinical trials about the deviation from the dosage regimen.
Both vaccines currently approved in the UK require two doses to be fully effective.