Prime Minister Boris Johnson has addressed the nation tonight (Mon 4 Jan) in a televised speech which announced a strict national lockdown in order to attempt to supress coronavirus.
Johnson claimed that the new, faster spreading variant of Covid-19 is the reason that implementing previously successful approaches to supressing the virus has not worked this winter.
"Our hospitals are under more pressure than at any time during the pandemic," the Prime Minister said.
He explained that, on 29 December, more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK - a new record. The UK will now move to alert level 5, meaning that, without intervention, the NHS could be overwhelmed within 21 days, according to the PM.
"It's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out," said Johnson.
'A tough national lockdown'
The Prime Minister said that the best approach for the whole of the UK is "a national lockdown that is tough enough to contain this variant."
Reverting back to the message at the forefront of the UK's first lockdown, he reminded viewers to "stay home".
Residents in England are now only permitted to leave home to shop for essentials, work - if they cannot do so from home - seek medical assistance, or to escape domestic abuse.
The clinically extremely vulnerable should recommence shielding. Johnson said these people will soon receive a letter with more information.
Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote learning from tomorrow (5 Jan), apart from children of key workers. Nurseries and early years childcare facilities will still open as normal.
Due to disruption in schools, the Prime Minister conceded that it was "not fair" for exams to go ahead as normal in summer. He said alternative arrangements will be made for students affected.
Those entitled to free school meals will still receive them during lockdown, and more tech devices will be given to children who need them, in order to support remote education.
'Schools are vectors for transmission'
Pre-empting criticism about even allowing schools to reopen after the Christmas holidays, the Prime Minister said: "We have been doing everything within our power to keep education open.
"The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children."
However, he went on to dub schools "vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households."
'The pace of vaccination is accelerating'
Nearing the end of his address, Johnson revealed that the UK has now vaccinated more people against Covid-19 than in the rest of Europe combined.
"The pace of vaccination is accelerating," he said.
According to the Prime Minister, the NHS expects to have offered a first vaccine dose (one of two required for each person) to everyone in the four top priority groups by early February. These groups, as detailed on the Government website, are:
- Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
- All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
- All those 75 years of age and over
- All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)
The Prime Minister reminded viewers that there is a three week time lag from getting the jab to receiving immunity, and that there will be a further time lag before pressure is lifted from NHS.
"We should remain cautious about the timetable ahead," he said. However, he said that he hopes to reopen schools after the February half term.
'We're entering the last phase of the struggle'
"I know how tough this is, and I know how frustrated you are," Johnson said.
"But now, more than ever, we must pull together."
Citizens are expected to follow the new rules immediately, and they will become law from Wednesday morning (6 Jan).
Finally, the Prime Minister repeated the now familiar mantra of, "Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives."
"The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet, but I really do believe that we're entering the last phase of the struggle," he finished.