Covid: England and Scotland begin new lockdowns as cases rise
People in all of England and most of Scotland must now stay at home except for a handful of permitted reasons, as new lockdowns begin in both nations.
Schools have closed to most pupils in England, Scotland and Wales, while Northern Ireland will have an “extended period of remote learning”.
England’s rules are due to be reviewed on 15 February; Scotland’s will be reviewed at the end of January.
PM Boris Johnson warned the coming weeks would be the “hardest yet”.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are to be given a one-off grant worth up to £9,000, with the measure costing £4bn across the UK.
And Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove confirmed GCSE and A-Level exams in England were cancelled this year, saying the education secretary will make a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday on “how we want to make sure children are fairly assessed”.
It comes after the UK reported a record 58,784 cases on Monday, as well as a further 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Announcing England’s lockdown, Mr Johnson said hospitals were under “more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic”.
He ordered people to stay indoors other than for limited exceptions – such as essential medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work that cannot be done at home – and said schools and colleges should move to remote teaching for the majority of students until at least half term.
And he said all care home residents and their carers, everyone aged 70 and over, all frontline health and social care workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable will be offered one dose of a vaccine by mid-February.
While the rules become law in the early hours of Wednesday, people should follow them now, the PM added.
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Earlier on Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a stay-at-home order for Scotland, beginning at midnight and lasting until the end of January.
Scotland’s lockdown, which is for the mainland and Skye, will also see schools closed to pupils, places of worship closed and group exercise banned.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Wales, which has been in a national lockdown since 20 December, said schools and colleges would shut until 18 January for most pupils.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland, which entered a six-week lockdown on 26 December plans to put its stay-at-home message into law, and will have an “extended period of remote learning”, the Stormont Executive said.
‘Will save lives’
“The more we vaccinate the easier it will be to lift these restrictions,” Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast, saying a million people had been vaccinated so far “up until the weekend” and they hope the number will reach more than 13 million in February.
When asked about the target of two million vaccines a week and concerns over logistics and the safety systems, he said: “We do want to make sure these vaccines are delivered in the safest possible way that we do not waste a drop.
“The process of making sure that the vaccines can be placed in the appropriate vials and then safely injected into people’s arms is a complicated exercise, but the NHS has more than risen to the challenge.”
He added that the government was “looking at further options” to restrict international travel.
Prof Andrew Hayward – a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the lockdown measures “will save tens of thousands of lives”.
But he said “the virus is different” and “it may be that the lockdown measures that we have are not enough”
“This lockdown period we need to do more than just stay at home, wait for the vaccine, we need to be actively bearing down on it,” he said.
By 8pm on Monday it felt inevitable.
But it doesn’t mean that a national instruction to close the doors was automatic. Or indeed that new lockdowns in England and Scotland aren’t still dramatic and painful.
With tightening up in Wales and Northern Ireland too, the spread of coronavirus this winter has been faster than governments’ attempts to keep up with it – leaving leaders with little choice but to take more of our choices away.
There is much that’s an echo of March. Work, school, life outside the home will be constrained in so many ways, with terrible and expensive side-effects for the economy.
This time, it’s already spluttering – restrictions being turned on and off for months have starved so much trade of vital business.
But there’s a lot that’s different too. After so long, the public is less forgiving of the actions taken, and there is frustration particularly over last-minute changes for schools; fatigue too with having to live under such limits.
Read more from Laura here.
Under England’s new measures, support and childcare bubbles will continue, and people can meet one person from another household for outdoor exercise.
Exercise should be limited to once per day.
Communal worship and funerals can continue, subject to limits on attendance. Weddings are allowed in “exceptional circumstances” with up to six people.
Mr Johnson said the new variant of coronavirus, which is up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner and warned that the number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals is 40% higher than the first peak.
He added, however, that vaccinating the top four priority groups by mid-February could allow restrictions to be eased.
People who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be contacted by letter and should now shield once more, Mr Johnson said.
The House of Commons has been recalled to allow MPs to vote on England’s new restrictions on Wednesday.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his MPs would “support the package of measures”, saying “we’ve all got to pull together now to make this work”.
But business leaders have expressed concern over the level of financial support.
British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said companies would understand why a lockdown was necessary – but added they will be “baffled and disappointed… that he did not announce additional support for affected businesses alongside these new restrictions”.
Mr Johnson spoke after UK chief medical officers recommended the Covid threat level be increased to five – its highest level.
Level five means the NHS may soon be unable to handle a further sustained rise in cases, the medical officers said in a joint statement.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts, said patients were being admitted to hospital at an “alarming rate” and that “immediate and decisive action” was needed.
At-a-glance: New rules
- People cannot leave their homes except for certain reasons, like the first lockdown last March
- These include essential medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work for those who cannot do so from home
- All schools and colleges will close to most pupils from Tuesday with remote learning until February half term
- Early years settings such as nurseries will stay open
- End-of-year exams will not take place this summer as normal
- Elsewhere, university students should not return to campuses and will be taught online
- Restaurants can continue to offer food delivery, but takeaway alcohol will be banned
- Outdoor sports venues – such as golf courses, tennis courts and outside gyms – must close
- But outdoor playgrounds will remain open
- Amateur team sports are not allowed, but elite sport such as Premier League football can continue
In mainland Scotland and Skye:
- Nursery, primary and secondary schools will close to all most pupils until February. Learning will move online
- People should only leave home for essential reasons, like the first lockdown last March
- Those who are shielding should not go into work, even if they cannot work from home
- A maximum of two people from up to two households can meet outdoors, excluding under-12s who can play together outside
- Places of worship will close except for weddings (up to five people) and funeral services (up to 20 people). Wakes are not allowed
- The definition of an essential business will be tightened with premises such as ski centres, large retail showrooms, and cosmetic clinics required to close
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Published at Tue, 05 Jan 2021 09:26:59 +0000