British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has placed England under an unprecedented nationwide lockdown as the country continues to record in excess of 50,000 coronavirus cases a day.
Mr Johnson made the announcement late on Monday (local time), sending more than 50 million people into Tier 5 for the first time – England’s most stringent restrictions since March – in a desperate bid to curtail the rapid spread of a new, more infectious strain of the virus.
“It's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control,” he said in a television address.
“Today, the United Kingdom chief medical officers have advised that the country should move to alert level five, meaning that if action is not taken NHS capacity, may be overwhelmed within 21 days.”
The lockdown is primarily a stay-at-home order, with people only allowed to leave home for essential reasons.
He warned the coming weeks would be the “hardest yet” of the UK’s pandemic timeline, however said he hoped it would be the “last phase of the struggle”.
The lockdown will run until at least mid-February.
He announced primary and secondary schools, and colleges would close from Tuesday, cancelling examinations in the process.
“I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this change will cause millions of parents and pupils up and down the country,” Mr Johnson said.
UK reacts to latest move
A wave of emotion followed on social media moments after Mr Johnson made his announcement, many in despair over the current state of affairs in a country that has the fifth most cases across the globe.
Many lambasted the government for their slow and indecisive approach to the virus.
“Typical UK Government, reactive rather than proactive,” one person said.
Manchester resident Stephen, 67, who is hoping to receive a vaccine in the coming weeks, told Yahoo News Australia the move from Mr Johnson has come far too late.
“The decision to lockdown could and should have been taken at least two weeks ago, given all that was known then,” he said.
What are England’s new coronavirus rules?
People can only leave their homes for essential shopping, work when it can’t be done from home, medical reasons and exercise.
All schools and colleges will close from Tuesday.
Restaurants can only operate when offering takeaway services, however alcohol cannot be included.
Amateur sports, gyms, outdoor sporting facilities must close.
Graph reveals devastating extent of second wave
Daunting graphs of the nation’s cumulative and daily cases shows a steep trajectory in recent weeks as its devastating second wave shows no signs of slowing down despite breakthroughs in the UK’s vaccine rollout.
Dr Brian Klaas, an associate professor in global politics at University College London, labelled one of the graphs “terrifying”.
“It’s basically a vertical line at this point,” he said on Twitter.
More than 75,000 people in the United Kingdom have died from Covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test. A record 58,784 new cases of the coronavirus were reported on Monday.
"We are not confident that the NHS (National Health Service) can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days," the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the medical director of NHS England said in a statement.
Moving ahead of Mr Johnson, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier on Monday imposed the most stringent lockdown for Scotland since last spring.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation that we face now than I have been at any time since March,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament that from midnight on Monday people would face a legal requirement to stay at home during January except for essential purposes, similar to the lockdown imposed at the start of the pandemic in March last year.
“The situation... is extremely serious,” she said.
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