Prime Minister announces new lockdown in England

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a third national lockdown in England, in order to combat a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.

Mr Johnson set out the new rules, which override the current tiering system, in an eight-minute live televised address at Downing Street at the end of the first working day of 2021 on Monday evening (4 January). 

From midnight, everyone MUST stay at home except for very limited reasons permitted in law, which are as follows: 

  • for work - if you cannot work from home, e.g. key workers and construction sector 
  • for shopping - buying essential items only, e.g. food or medication 
  • for exercise - once per day locally, which can include one other person from outside your household or support/childcare bubble 
  • to provide care or help to vulnerable people 
  • to attend medical appointments or medical care (such as getting a Covid test or the vaccine), or to flee the threat of harm or violence 

Meanwhile, pubs, restaurants and cafes will be able to continue takeaway or click and collect services, but the sale of takeaway alcohol will no longer be allowed. All non-essential retail, hospitality, zoos and gyms must close. 

Elite sport can carry on with current protocols in place, but amateur team sports are not allowed and outdoor sports venues must close. 

Places of worship can remain open for communal worship but social distancing measures must be in place.

A 22-page document outlining the rules in detail has since been released by the government, which you can read in full here

The restrictions are expected to last until at least 15 February, with the PM suggesting the country might then be able to start "steadily" moving out of lockdown.

What it means for education 

From Tuesday, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will close to most pupils - except for vulnerable children and those of key workers - and switch to remote learning until the February half term. 

GCSE and A-Level exams will not take place as normal this summer, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set to work with Ofqual before announcing alternative arrangements in due course. 

Early years settings such as nurseries will stay open, but university students should not return to campuses and will instead be taught online.

Mr Johnson said the government will provide extra support to ensure that pupils entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them while schools are closed, and more electronic devices will be distributed to support remote education.

On why the decision was not made sooner - amid rising pressure from unions in recent weeks - Mr Johnson said: "The answer is simply that we’ve been doing everything in our power to keep schools open because we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances".

Advice for shielders 

Those who are judged to be clinically vulnerable are being urged to stay at home as much as possible and not go to work - even if they can't work from home. 

They should only go outside for exercise or to attend health appointments. 

Mr Johnson said those affected will be contacted by letter shortly. 

'Weeks ahead will be the hardest yet' 

The PM went on to say that the NHS expects people in the top four priority groups - over 70s, care home residents and workers, frontline health staff and all clinically extremely vulnerable - to receive a first coronavirus vaccine dose by mid-February "if things go well". 

MPs will vote on the new lockdown restrictions when Parliament is recalled on Wednesday, but will be told to stay away from the House of Commons and take part virtually. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party supports the "necessary" measures and that everyone must "all pull together" in the "difficult" weeks ahead.  

Mr Johnson said that the weeks ahead would be the "hardest yet" but added that he believed the country was entering "the last phase of the struggle".

Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly in every part of the country due to the new coronavirus variant - judged to be between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible - which the PM said is spreading at "a frustrating and alarming speed". 

Earlier on Monday, 58,784 new coronavirus cases in the UK in the last 24 hours were announced - the highest daily total of the pandemic - as well as 407 deaths, within 28 days of a positive test. 

UK chief medical officers have also recommended that the Covid threat level should be increased to five - its highest level - for the first time. It means that the NHS may soon be unable to handle a further sustained rise in cases. 

Mr Johnson's announcement comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced earlier on Monday a new lockdown in Scotland, which will be imposed from midnight until at least the end of January. 

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