UK imposes another lockdown as new COVID-19 variant rampages
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced a new lockdown for England in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the new variant.
The announcement came just hours after the government hailed Britain’s success in becoming the first country to begin rolling out the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca against COVID-19.
Johnson said a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK and now present in many other countries was spreading at great speed and immediate action was needed to slow it down.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than any time since the start of the pandemic,” Johnson said in a televised address to the country.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Non-essential shops and hospitality would have to remain closed, while primary and secondary schools would close from Tuesday for all pupils except vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers.
Johnson said the disruption meant it would not be possible for all exams to go ahead this summer -- the second academic year in a row in which the pandemic has played havoc with pupils’ education and future plans.
Johnson said that if the vaccine rollout went as planned and the number of deaths responded to the lockdown measures as expected, it should be possible to start moving out of lockdown by the middle of February.
However, he urged caution about the timetable and appealed to everyone to comply with the rules, according to Reuters.
Britain’s economy suffered a historic crash of nearly 20% in the April-June period of 2020 as swathes of business were shuttered by the first lockdown.
The new measures, which allow companies such as construction firms to remain open, could cost about 10% of economic output for as long as they last, said Julian Jessop, a fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think-tank.