LONDON – After much speculation, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the third lockdown in England after giving a televised address to the nation on Monday night.
Mr. Johnson focused on the uncertainty of the new Covid-19 variant, stressing it is 50-70% more transmissible than the original strain. He stressed the need for the British public to do more to bring the new variant under control whilst the vaccines are rolled out.
“It is clear that we need to do more to bring this new variant under control,” Johnson said. “That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home.”
People living in England have been told to stay at home except for shopping for essentials, work that cannot be done from home, exercise, medical assistance, and escaping from domestic violence.
Johnson also announced that those who are critically vulnerable or shielding must continue to do so once again.
Amidst the re-opening of schools after the Christmas holidays, Mr. Johnson stated that all primary, secondary, and college schools must close and revert back to online teaching. The government will try to keep the free school meals policy and provide technical assistance (in the form of laptop provision) to poorer families.
Johnson continued to stress that, “schools are not unsafe for children” but acknowledged they are places that act as “vectors” for transmission. However, less than 24 hours ago, the Prime Minister had pleaded to parents to send their children back to school.
The address also corresponds with Britain being placed in Alert Level 5 – which states – if action is not taken, the NHS capacity will be overwhelmed in 21 days. Despite a grim message, the PM was keen to stress that this lockdown, as opposed to the one at the beginning of the pandemic in March, or the semi lockdown in November, was different.
“Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of COVID patients in hospitals and in intensive care,” UK Chief Medical Officers said in a statement on Monday.
There are two vaccines ready for roll-out, including Pfizer and the Oxford University/ Astrazeneca vaccine, and the pace or roll out has accelerated.
Mr. Johnson stated the NHS expectations for vaccine roll out (if it goes according to plan) is that the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four priority groups – those working or living in care homes, everyone over 70, and frontline or social care workers – will be given by the middle of February. If this goes to plan – the Prime Minister will consider lifting restrictions around this period.
In summing up his address, Mr. Johnson stated, “I know how tough this is” but “now more than ever we must pull together” and realise the “miracle of science.”
Mr. Johnson reinforced the importance of the public following the rules from today, with legislation expected to become law on Wednesday morning when it passes through the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister’s speech was met with backlash from the opposition as Labour Party shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted out her anger.
“This is beyond chaos,” she wrote. “How can learning go online tomorrow when teachers were told to spend the last two weeks planning for reopening?”
Despite this being the third lockdown, Johnson was keen to stress this would be the last phase of the struggle. Let’s hope he’s finally right.