England's New Tightened National Lockdown

Tim Locke

January 04, 2021

Editor's note, 4 January 2021: This article was updated with additional reaction.

The whole of England is going into a tightened national lockdown due to the rapid spread of the new variant of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement in a TV address at 8pm rather than a news conference.  "The Government is once again instructing you to stay at home," he said after giving some background to the decision. 

"In England alone, the number of COVID patients in hospitals has increased by nearly a third in the last week to almost 27,000, and that number is 40% 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% over the last week."

Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to begin shielding again.

Schools and colleges move to remote learning and this summer's exams are cancelled.

Schools are not unsafe, Mr Johnson said: "The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission causing the virus to spread between households." 

Leaving home is only permitted for essential reasons but outdoor exercise is still allowed.

The PM struck a positive note on vaccination: "By the middle of February, if things go well, and with a fair 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 on Vaccination and Immunisation."

Mr Johnson said the rules should be followed from now and will become law on Wednesday morning and Parliament is being recalled later the same day.

"You must once again stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives," he concluded. 

Reaction

Reacting via Twitter, Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, president of Doctors Association UK, said: "I have no doubt this will have come as a blow to so many. But we are at breaking point on the front line. The NHS could be overwhelmed in 21 days without taking some difficult decisions."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: "Hospitals are stretched to breaking point, with doctors reporting unbearable workloads as they take on more COVID-19 admissions alongside the growing backlog of people who need other, non-COVID care. Doctors are desperate, with some even comparing their working environment to a warzone as wards overflow, waiting lists grow, and ambulances queue outside hospitals because there are now so many people with COVID-19."

He added: "No one likes being told how to live their life, but the reality is that without these tougher measures, the further this virus will spread, potentially taking more lives and damaging the NHS beyond repair."

Other experts commented via the Science Media Centre.

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London, and NERVTAG member, said: "The new variant made these measures inevitable and necessary. The next few weeks will show whether they are enough to suppress the much more transmissible new variant which is now predominating in the country."

Professor Dame Til Wykes, vice dean, Psychology and Systems Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, said: "NHS staff continue to need our support. We don’t need to clap for them, we just need to stay at home and follow all the rules. The evidence is that most people are being very careful, but there are still some who think that COVID-19 is a myth or that they are immortal – neither are true."

Mark Woolhouse, professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said: "The new variant is a game changer and made the Prime Minister’s announcement of a full national lockdown for England almost inevitable. 

"Given the estimates of the transmissibility of the new variant, this lockdown may not be as effective as the one last March. It may be that the best we can hope for is that the situation does not deteriorate further."

Dr Simon Kolstoe, School of Health and Care Professions at the University of Portsmouth, said: "Hospital admissions are all that matters. If they are rising to the point of overwhelming the NHS it is clear that greater restrictions are needed. Rather than focussing on the number of positive COVID-19 tests in the community, I am glad that the focus is now directly on the number of people entering hospital."

Alert Level

The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) recommended raising the UK's alert level to 5 for the first time. The UK CMOs issued a joint statement saying: "Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant. We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

"Although the NHS is under immense pressure, significant changes have been made so people can still receive lifesaving treatment. It is absolutely critical that people still come forward for emergency care."

Rest of UK

Earlier Scotland announced a new national lockdown from midnight.

There's a legal requirement for people to stay at home for the rest of the month, and schools stay closed to most pupils until February at the earliest.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: "It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year."

Wales began a national lockdown on Boxing Day with an announcement on renewing restrictions due on Friday.

Northern Ireland also began a 6 week national lockdown on Boxing Day with a review due after 4 weeks.

Daily Data

In today's daily data another 58,784 UK positive tests were reported and 407 deaths.

There are 23,823 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 1847 ventilator beds are in use.

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