U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that a national coronavirus lockdown will once again be imposed in England.
Due to the "alarming" spread of the new variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in the U.K. in late December, Johnson said that additional steps needed to be taken or the country's National Health Service risked the possibility of being overwhelmed within the next 21 days.
“Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50 and 70 percent more transmissible – that means you are much, much more likely to catch the virus and to pass it on,” he said during a televised broadcast, noting that within the past week, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations had “increased by nearly a third” to almost 27,000.
The number of deaths has also risen by over 20 percent over the past week “and will sadly rise further,” added Johnson, who battled the virus last year.
“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,” he continued. "In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.”
Starting on Tuesday, schools across the country will close, although nurseries will be permitted to remain open. Residents will also be permitted to leave homes for essential errands, to seek medical attention and escape domestic abuse.
The lockdown is expected to last through at least mid-February.
“Of course, there is one huge difference compared to last year,” Johnson continued. “We’re now rolling out the biggest vaccination program in our history. So far we in the U.K. have a vaccinated more people than in the rest of Europe combined.”
On Monday, hours before the lockdown announcement, the U.K. became the first nation in the world to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. In December, the U.K. was also the first nation to approve and administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
To date “more than a million people in the UK have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine,” according to a government press release issued Monday.
“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle because with every jab that goes into our arms we are tilting the odds against COVID and in favor of the British people,” Johnson continued as his speech came to a close.
“Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight, but we know exactly how we will get there,” he continued. But for now, I’m afraid you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced on Monday that the country would be entering into a full lockdown. Northern Ireland and Wales were previously placed under national lockdown late last year.
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