BORIS Johnson has ordered everyone in England to stay at home until mid-February as he launched an emergency shutdown to try and save Britain’s NHS.
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The PM urged Brits to follow the third nationwide lockdown immediately, and once again put Brits under effective house arrest – resurrecting the ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives slogan’.
And it was the new variant – which is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible – which has forced him to act.
Mr Johnson said people will only be allowed out of their homes to buy essential food and medicine supplies, attend medical appointments, exercise, work if it is critical and cannot be done from home and to provide care for a vulnerable person.
He also told the nation:
- People can only meet up for outside exercise with one other person from another household
- All outdoor team sports are banned except for elite sportsmen and kids still at school
- Playgrounds will remain open but outdoor gyms, tennis courts and golf courses will be closed once again
- Schools are set to stay shut across the nation until at least February half-term
- Nurseries, childcare centres and special schools will remain open
- Students will not be able to return to university and will be told to study remotely from their current residency until at least the middle of next month.
- GCSEs, A-Levels and some other exams are set to be cancelled – with further announcements due to come
- Pubs, restaurants, bars and most venues were already ordered to shut in every part of England apart from the Isles of Scilly last week and will remain closed for at least another month
- In a further blow to the battered industry, the new nationwide curbs will ban takeaway pints being served amid fears over punters clustering outside pubs. Food and non-alcohol takeaways will continue to be permitted
- In a boost for lonely Brits, support bubbles will remain in place – allowing single households to mix indoors with one other household
Police will have legal powers to enforce the rules but fines will not be increased despite a drop in compliance.
Free school meals will continue to go to those who need them as schools stay shut, and more laptops will be dished out to kids across the nation who haven’t got the ability to learn online at home.
And holidays will effectively be cancelled as people have to legally remain at home.
NHS IN CRISIS
The PM said he was left with no option but to impose the third lockdown after being confronted with terrifying new data on how the new strain of Covid is rampaging through the country.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told him the mutant virus is now in every part of the UK.
It means that without immediate action there is a “material risk” of healthcare services being overwhelmed within three weeks.
He warned: “Hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic.”
The number of patients in hospital has risen by a third in the last week alone – to more than 27,000.
The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle
It is far outstripping the peak of hospitalisations during the first wave, which hit 18,973 cases on April 12.
England’s hospitals are now a massive 40 per cent above that figure, with the usual winter strain on the NHS helping to fill up wards.
Another startling statistic that triggered the Government to act was the UK recording more than 80,000 positive cases in a single day last week – on December 29.
Lockdown at a glance
- From tonight, stay at home until mid-February (all of England)
- Law to come in when regulations will be laid tomorrow
- All schools shut until Feb half term
- Nurseries and special schools to stay open
- Kids continue to see both parents if they are divorced
- All shielders should stay home as in Tier 4
- Non essential retail to shut if they haven’t already
- No takeaway alcohol
- Police can fine people up to £200 for breaking rules as before – or £10,000 to businesses and for hosing gatherings
- Weddings can take place as per Tier 4 – only if people are dying – and only funerals in small numbers
- Students must not return to university until middle of Feb and stay put if they can
- Outdoor sports venues to close but playgrounds remain open
- People can ONLY exercise with 1 other person – no meeting them on bench for a cuppa
- Support and childcare bubbles to continue
- Only travel abroad if it’s essential
- School meal vouchers will continue in some form but Gov ironing out details
- Kids’ sport cancelled unless through school
Average case rates in England are now at 518 per 100,000 – three times the level at the start of December and cases as well as hospital admissions are surging in all regions of the country.
In a sobering address to the nation last night, the PM said: “The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle.”
The PM added: “With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.
“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.”
And he said that while the next couple of months will be the toughest yet, we are closer to finding a way out of the crisis than at any point in the pandemic so far due to the roll-out of the vaccine.
VACCINATE THE VULNERABLE
The PM set an ambitious new target to vaccinate at least the most vulnerable 13 million people by February 15, which government medical advisers have said will stop 99 per cent of hospitalisations.
By the middle of February, he said the nation was expected to have been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups – all people in care homes and carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
If the target is met then the aim is to significantly lift restrictions by the beginning of March.
With every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people
The PM said: “With every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.
“And, thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight and we know exactly how we will get there.”
The new rules will come into law from Wednesday morning, but people are being told to act from tonight.
The Government will once again ask around two million clinically vulnerable people to shield and stay at home even if it means they cannot work.
They have been told to only leave for exercise or health appointments and avoid busy places such as shops and pharmacies.
Ministers were tonight considering introducing a ban on international travel but people were told to only take essential journeys.
Rules on weddings and funerals will remain the same as in Tier 4 areas – only allowing 15 guests for weddings and 30 mourners at funerals.
Boris said he knew the nation was “frustrated” and had “had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus”.
But he stressed: “Now more than ever, we must pull together.”
The nationwide lockdown will last until at least February 15.
No10 said the lockdown will be replaced by the regional tier system of restrictions after that.
A rapid analysis of the new lockdown by the Institute of Economic Affairs warned the six-week lockdown would cost the UK economy a whopping £27 billion.
Sage member and top epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds said they a UK death toll of more than 100,000 is now “baked in”. In a grim forecast, he told the BBC last night: “I think total numbers of deaths will be unfortunately measured now in those sorts of numbers, 100,000 or more.”
He said “really major additional measures” are needed immediately to control the spread of the virus, with school closures being the “biggest lever” available to the Government.
Nicola Sturgeon yesterday afternoon announced similar measures in Scotland.
Under the new rules, which come into force at midnight, Scots will be ordered to stay at home and schools will remain closed to pupils until February.
Northern Ireland is midway through a six-week shutdown.
Wales has effectively been in a nationwide lockdown since December 20, with Tier 4 restrictions in place.
Schools in Wales will remain closed until January 18 at least.
Last night senior Tories urged the PM to go even further than the first lockdown by shutting the border to international travel.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health select committee, told Times Radio: “I would like to see tougher border controls.
“At the moment when you come from a country like South Africa where they’ve got a very deadly new strain, you are asked to quarantine yourself for two weeks, but there’s no one to actually check that you do that.
“And if you flew to Korea or Japan today, you know, someone will escort you to a hotel where you are required to quarantine for two weeks, and they will make sure you do so I think we’ve got to be tougher on the border side.”