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England plunged into national lockdown with schools set to close

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The prime minister has told people to stay at home from tonight to protect the NHS as he announced England will enter a new national lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.

As part of Boris Johnson’s statement this evening, he said that while most of the country is already under extreme measures, more needs to be done to bring the new variant of coronavirus under control while the vaccine programme is rolled out. The restrictions are expected to last until mid-February.

He said: “In England we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain the virus.

“Therefore, you must stay at home. You may only leave home for limited reasons such as to shop for essentials, work where you can’t work from home; to exercise; for medical assistance or to escape domestic abuse.

“If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, we are asking you to begin shielding again and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.

“Primary and secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote provision from tomorrow except for vulnerable children and those of key workers. Everyone will still be able to access early years settings such as nurseries.

“I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this late change will cause millions of parents and pupils up and down the country. Parents whose children were in school today may reasonably ask why we did not take this decision sooner. And the answer is simply that we have been doing everything in our power to keep schools open as we know how important each day is for children’s life chances.

“The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children. Children are very unlikely to be affected. The problem is that schools may act as vectors for transmission causing the virus to spread between households,” he said.

Johnson added that as a result of the school closures, the education secretary and Ofqual will work together to come up with an alternative as it will not be possible for exams to go ahead this summer.

Further, free school meals provision was addressed for those in need while schools are closed and the government will distribute more devices to support remote education.

The PM revealed that the new strain of the coronavirus is between 50% and 70% more transmissible so people are much more likely to catch it and pass it on.

Hospitals are also under more pressure than at any time since the start of the pandemic. However, Johnson also said that with the roll-out of the new vaccine from today along with the other jabs, more people have been vaccinated in the UK than Europe combined.

If “things go well”, by mid-February, the first dose of the vaccine is expected to have been offered to the first four priority groups, including care home residents and carers; everyone over the age of 70, all front line health and care workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

The move comes after Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a national lockdown in Scotland from midnight tonight for the duration of January.

Johnson added that the devolved administrations “share the conviction that this is the pivotal moment” and that “the weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but we really believe we’re entering the last phase”.

What this means for you

All non-essential retail, hospitality and personal care services must close, or remain closed. Restaurants can continue delivery, takeaway or click-and-collect of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but venues will no longer be able to serve takeaway or click-and-collect alcohol.

Essential shops and garden centres can remain open. Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos must close, but the outdoor areas of venues such as heritage homes and botanical gardens can remain open. Playgrounds may also remain open.

Places of worship can also remain open, but you may only visit with your household.

Indoor and outdoor sports facilities including sports courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools, and riding arenas must also close. Elite sport and disabled sport can continue, as can PE lessons for children attending school.

If you leave your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’, the police can fine you. You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.