Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered England back into a national lockdown after the United Kingdom passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 cases and a second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.
The United Kingdom, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned the "worst case" of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.
Johnson, at a hastily convened news conference in Downing Street on Saturday after news of a lockdown leaked to the media, said the one-month lockdown across England would kick in after midnight on Thursday morning and last until December 2.
People will only be allowed to leave home for specific reasons such as education, work, exercise, shopping for essentials and medicines or caring for the vulnerable.
"We must act now," Johnson said, flanked by his chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and his chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.
"Unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day."
He said the government would revive its emergency wage subsidy scheme to ensure workers who were temporarily laid off received 80 per cent of their pay.
Essential shops, schools, and universities will remain open, and while elite sports will continue, amateur sports for adults and children will be asked to stop.
Pubs and restaurants will be shut apart from for takeaways, and outbound international travel will be discouraged except for work. All non-essential retail will close.
Places of worship will remain open for private prayer, though funerals will be limited to close family members only.
Johnson's imposition of stricter curbs came after scientists warned the outbreak was going in the wrong direction and action was needed to halt the spread of the virus if families were to have any hope of gathering at Christmas.
Johnson criticised for moving too slowly
The measures bring England into alignment with France and Germany by imposing nationwide restrictions almost as severe as the ones that drove the global economy this year into its deepest recession in generations.
Johnson was criticised by political opponents for moving too slowly into the first national lockdown, which stretched from March 23 to July 4. He fell ill with Covid in late March and was hospitalised in early April.
A national lockdown represents a dramatic change of policy for the prime minister, who had been saying for months it would not be necessary.
Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour leader, who called for a lockdown two weeks ago, said the delay introducing the restrictions would come "at an economic cost and a human cost".
MPs are expected to vote on the proposals on Wednesday.
The United Kingdom has reported 46,555 COVID-19 deaths – defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test.
The United Kingdom has the world's fifth largest official death toll, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
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