UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce new COVID-19 lockdown restrictions tonight with a third national lockdown for England looking almost inevitable.
Parliament will be recalled from recess on Wednesday to debate the latest changes after a surge in cases forced the premier into action. He will speak on television at 8 pm on Monday. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared to anticipate the move and said she will implement a lockdown from midnight.
A faster-spreading mutation of the virus threatens to overwhelm hospitals; and has thrown the premier’s plan to get English children back into classrooms into disarray. He had hoped on Monday’s focus; would be on celebrating the delivery of the first shots of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc.
On Monday, Johnson’s office said in a statement “The spread of the new variant of COVID-19 has led to; rapidly escalating case numbers across the country. The prime minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Johnson’s government is back in crisis mode, with new virus cases exceeding 50,000 a day and hospital admissions soaring past the peak of the first wave in April. Johnson, who ended the year on a high by securing a last-minute trade deal with the European Union, on Monday warned a “surging epidemic” means stricter rules are coming.
ITV reported the government plans to put the whole of England into Tier 4, the highest level in its systems of restrictions, meaning non-essential shops will have to close and further curbs will be placed on socializing. Tier 4 rules effectively mirror the second lockdown in November and already govern about 75% of England’s population.
“If you look at the number there’s no question we are going to have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course,” Johnson said in a pooled TV interview earlier on Monday. “We will do everything we can to keep this virus under control.”
Sturgeon stole a march on Johnson by ordering people to remain at home and by keeping schools closed. The resurgent virus gave her no choice, she told Scots. She said, “We are now in a race between the vaccine and the virus.”
Former Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was among those calling for Johnson to impose an immediate national lockdown. Writing on Twitter, he said schools and borders should be closed and all households mixing banned.
Hunt’s successor Matt Hancock warned on Monday there would be “some very difficult weeks ahead.”
It’s far cry from the government’s optimism in early December; when the arrival of vaccines was dubbed the “scientific cavalry” to the rescue. The picture changed dramatically when the emergence of a faster; spreading strain of COVID-19 led to the introduction of a stricter fourth tier of regional corona virus rules; that hammered retailers reliant on Christmas shoppers.