Boris Johnson has revealed Britain will once again be plunged into lockdown in a bid to contain the escalating coronavirus nightmare.
The new lockdown – the third since the pandemic began, and the toughest since March 2020 – is expected to last six weeks and will come into effect from tomorrow.
In a national address on Tuesday morning Australia time, Mr Johnson said the new variant of the coronavirus which has caused a fresh disaster in the UK was both “frustrating and alarming”, given it was 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strain.
He explained UK hospitals were under more pressure now than at any point previously during the pandemic, with almost 30,000 people hospitalised, a 40 per cent jump compared with the first peak.
In fact, he claimed that official statistics indicated that if the nation did not take action immediately, hospitals would be overwhelmed within three weeks.
As a result, a red level five alert – the highest available – was issued for the first time in history, meaning there was a “material risk” of hospitals being overwhelmed within weeks.
It was announced by the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers, including Professor Chris Whitty and NHS England’s medical director Professor Stephen Powis.
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In a joint statement, the CMOs said the health system was “already under immense pressure”.
“There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of Covid patients in hospitals and in intensive care,” the statement reads.
“Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant.
“We are not confident that the NHS 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.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said the only solution was a new lockdown, claiming it had become “clear that we need to do more” to bring the virus “under control”.
He said in the past week the number of COVID-relate deaths had risen by 20 per cent, and that the number would “sadly rise further”.
The PM urged vulnerable members of the public to “shield” themselves against the illness and warned that the latest lockdown would be a challenge for the nation, although he also shared a message of hope for the frustrated population.
“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe we’re entering the last stage of the struggle,” he said.
“Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight, but we know exactly how we will get there.”
The new rules mean residents must stay home unless they are carrying out essential tasks such as shopping, working if working from home is not possible, exercising once per day only, seeking medical help or escaping domestic violence.
Schools will also return to remote learning tomorrow.
The UK’s coronavirus vaccination rollout began in early December, but at the moment the highly infectious new variant is spreading faster than the population can be vaccinated.
Mr Johnson’s announcement comes hot on the heels of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s revelation that mainland Scotland would enter a full lockdown from midnight on Monday UK time, which would be in place for the rest of the month.
While many members of the public expressed their shock at the latest shutdown, London mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement the rules should have been even tougher.
“This announcement by the government of a full national lockdown was inevitable,” Mr Khan said.
“It is unclear why it took Boris Johnson so long to reach this conclusion.
“The virus is out of control and our NHS is increasingly at risk of being overwhelmed by an exponential rise in cases, with Covid admissions to hospitals now significantly higher than at any time during this pandemic.”