LONDON: Britain toughened its coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, with England and Scotland going into another full lockdown, as a new variant spreads.
Surging numbers of positive cases, and fears the a new variant of the virus is running out of control, prompted tougher action, which includes shutting schools, and a ban on leaving home except for essential shopping, medical reasons or exercise.
A total of 58,784 people tested positive in the UK on Monday, with cases in the last seven days up 50 percent on the previous week.
Overall, Britain has been among the worst hit in the world by the outbreak, with some 2.7 million cases and more than 75,000 deaths.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told Sky News on Tuesday he could not say precisely when the lockdown would be lifted, warning of “very, very difficult weeks” ahead.
The measures will be reviewed from February 15, he said, but the government cannot “predict with certainty” whether they will be lifted then.
“I think it is right to say that as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all,” he added.
The measures began in England on Tuesday morning and will become law after a vote in parliament on Wednesday morning.
Scotland’s lockdown will last at least until the end of this month, while Wales and Northern Ireland have also toughened existing restrictions.
The lockdown comes as the surge of a new strain of the virus said to be 50 to 70 percent more infectious threatens to overwhelm the state health service, with almost 24,000 currently hospitalised in the UK.
But the rollout of two vaccines, including the UK’s own Oxford University/AstraZeneca shot from Monday, has brought hopes of beating the virus in the coming months.
Opinion polls suggested a majority of the public support the new lockdown and the closure of schools, despite criticism the government had been too slow to respond.
In London and Edinburgh, only a few people were walking through central streets past closed shops and cafes, according reporters. “I’m perfectly fine with it,” Jenny Heath, 42, who works in marketing, said.
“There’s no way around it and it’s just a short-term solution to ease what’s happening in the NHS (National Health Service).”
“They are never going to get a handle on this virus until everybody is in total lockdown,” added 69-year-old Patricia Cairns in Edinburgh.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2021