UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday imposed a nationwide lockdown in England to combat a new variant of the CCP virus, with all schools being shut down until February.
“I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this change will cause millions of people and parents up and down the country,” Johnson said in a televised address. “The problem isn’t that schools are unsafe for children,” he said, adding that “the problem is that schools may act as vectors of transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.”
The prime minister said that schools will be closed until mid-February and the public will be required to stay home. Only essential stores will remain open until Feb. 15 at the earliest.
Johnson said that students are not expected to return until at least the end of February.
Some researchers have found that schoolchildren are not driving transmission of the virus.
“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle,” Johnson said, adding that the country’s National Health Service capacity “may be overwhelmed in 21 days.”
Officials on Monday said that more than 58,000 cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, were reported. More than 75,000 people in the United Kingdom have died from the virus, according to UK officials.
Johnson blamed the new lockdown on the variant of the virus that officials have said is more contagious.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control,” Johnson remarked. “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.”
Moving a few hours ahead of Johnson, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed the most stringent lockdown for Scotland since last spring.
The government in Wales said all schools and colleges there should move to online learning until Jan. 18.
The UK strain of the virus has been detected by officials in the United States and other countries. Officials in Colorado last month said they discovered the first case of a patient with the variant in a small town south of Denver.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a COVID-19 strain that was recently identified in South Africa may pose an even greater problem than the UK variant.
“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” Hancock told the BBC. “This is a very, very significant problem…and it’s even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.