UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed a new stay-at-home lockdown until at least mid-February to battle through the “critical moment” in the coronavirus pandemic, which has been exacerbated due to a new highly transmissible variant of the deadly virus.
Addressing the country in a televised address from Downing Street on Monday night, Johnson said the UK is at a pivotal stage in its fight against the rapidly spreading infections as he confirmed a complete shutdown of schools and businesses, similar to the very first nationwide lockdown back in March 2020.
"As I speak to you tonight our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time," said Johnson.
"It's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control. In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to combat this variant. That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home," he said.
He revealed that the number of hospital patients has increased to nearly 27,000, almost a third higher than the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April 2020. He, however, stressed that there is "one huge difference" compared to the lockdown of last year.
"We are rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history. We have vaccinated more people in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined,” he said.
Giving a “realistic” picture on vaccination by the National Health Service (NHS), he said: "By the middle of February if things go well, and with a wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation."
The UK prime minister said this means vaccinating care home residents and carers, all over-70s, everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, and all NHS frontline and health workers.
"That will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions that we have endured for so long," he said.
He advised people to leave their homes only for essential shopping, some daily exercise or medical reasons.
"I want to say to everyone right across the UK that I know how tough this is. And I know how frustrated you are and I know that you have had more than enough of government guidance," Johnson said.
“But now more than ever we must pull together. You must follow the new rules from now and they will become law on Wednesday morning.”
He admitted that the weeks ahead will be the “hardest yet” but reiterated that the UK was entering the “last phase of the struggle”.
“Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people,” he said.