UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed a new stay-at-home lockdown until at least mid-February following continuing spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases – the country registered over 50,000 daily infections for seven consecutive days – as the race between vaccine and the virus entered a new phase.
Addressing the country in a televised address from Downing Street on Monday night, Johnson said that the variant has been spreading at an “alarming rate”, which makes another lockdown imperative.
The restrictions with the main message to ‘stay at home’ will last from early Wednesday for six weeks, he said, adding that they include closure of schools, not venturing out of homes unless for essential reasons and working from home.
A grim-faced Johnson said: “(We) now have a new variant of the virus. It has been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading. Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible”.
“That number is 40 per cent higher than the first peak in April. On 29 December, more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK – a new record. The number of deaths is up by 20 per cent over the last week and will sadly rise further.
“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”, he added.
This is the third nation-wide lockdown since March 2020. It was re-imposed in November, when cases rose after a dip over the summer months. The overall number of deaths in the UK is expected to reach the grim figure of 100,000 by the end of January or early February.
The new measures are similar to those during the first, three-month lockdown from late March to June last year.
They include the closure of schools, working from home wherever possible, limits on leaving home, except for exercise, essential shopping and for medical supplies, and no household mixing.
Giving a realistic picture on vaccination by the National Health Service (NHS), Johnson said, “By the middle of February if things go well, and with a wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation.”
The UK prime minister said this means vaccinating care home residents and carers, all over-70s, everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, and all NHS frontline and health workers. “That will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions that we have endured for so long,” he said.
Meanwhile in Kerala, six UK returnees, including a two year old child have tested positive for the new strain of the virus. Health Minister KK Shailaja has asked people to remain cautious as the infection rate was high for the new strain of virus. The minister said airports and seaports will remain under vigil and those arriving in the state from European countries would be under observation.