UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced England will be put into a new national lockdown from the early hours of Wednesday, ditching the local tiered system, which he says has failed to hold back a surge of the new CCP virus variant.
Johnson’s announcement came on the day that the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine started in the UK. The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine—enough to potentially inoculate the whole country.
Johnson laid the blame for the failure of previous measures on the emergence of a new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant, which he said has a 50 to 70 percent faster rate of transmission.
“With most of the country under extreme measures, it’s clear we need to do more together to bring it under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” Johnson told the nation in a televised address on Jan. 4. “In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.”
“That means the government is, once again, instructing you to stay at home,” Johnson said.
“You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance, or to escape domestic abuse.”
Parliament will vote remotely on the measures, which come into force on Wednesday.
Primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges, will also be closed from tonight, education will be moved online, and summer GCSE and A-Level exams will now be cancelled.
The prime minister emphasised that the virus was not dangerous to children, but said that the concern was children could be acting as vectors of transmission.
He said that schools might be able to re-open after the February half-term if the virus levels had dropped.
The prime minister said that further details of the new measures would be posted on the government’s website.
‘One Huge Difference’
Johnson noted that there was “one huge difference” compared to previous lockdowns: the UK “rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in its history.”
He said that the UK had so far “vaccinated more people than in the rest of Europe combined.”
Johnson said that by mid-February, he expected that the vaccine would have been offered to everyone in the top priority groups, which include, residents in care for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, frontline health and social care workers, and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
England was put into a national lockdown in November, before a local four-tier system was used to try to curb the spread of the virus.
Just hours earlier, Scotland’s first minister had announced a national lockdown.
The latest official statistics show that CCP virus cases rose by 50 percent in a week. The death rate from the pandemic—which generally lags behind virus cases by around three weeks—rose by 20 percent to a daily average of 611 deaths within 28 days of a positive CCP virus test over the past week.
Hospitalizations due to the virus are up 20 percent in the last weekly average.
The average number of infections in the UK per day was 487 per 100,000 over the week ending Dec. 30.
In the southeast corner of England, where the new variant is dominant, levels of infections are much higher.
In London, the rate of infection in the population is 950 per 100,000—meaning almost one out of a hundred people have been infected on average over the last week.
Data for overall death rates is only available as a delayed snapshot from two weeks earlier. The latest figures for the week ending Dec. 18 show that overall deaths are 12.7 percent above the five-year average in England and Wales.
Data shows that over 95 percent of people who died with the CCP virus in England were recorded as having an underlying health condition.
However, that data uses a very broad definition of “underlying health condition” required by the healthcare recording system, which potentially includes many minor ailments, and could thus encompass much of the population.
Just before Johnson’s announcement, the UK Joint Biosecurity Centre moved the COVID-19 alert status to its highest level, five, meaning a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed.”