A new national lockdown starts today, Tuesday 5th January, in response to a continuing increase in cases of coronavirus. The situation will be reviewed on February 15th for England, and at the end of January for Scotland.
Meanwhile people in all of England and most of Scotland must now stay at home, except if they have to travel to work, are shopping for food or essentials, or taking exercise.
Schools, some of which briefly re-opened after the Christmas holidays, will now be closed to most pupils in England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland will have an “extended period of remote learning”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new measures while warning that the coming weeks would be the “hardest yet”.
Amon other measures, MGCSE and A-Level examinations are cancelled for this year. Alternative arrangemenets for academic assessment will be put in place.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that businesses in the hard-hit retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will be given a one-off grant worth up to £9,000.
The news comes after the UK reported a record 58,784 coronavirus cases on Monday 4th January, and a further 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. The new variant of coronavirus, which is up to 70% more transmissible, is spreading in what the Prime Minister called a “frustrating and alarming” manner, and the number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals is 40% higher than the first peak.
Strictly speaking the new rules are in force from the early hours of Wednesday, but the government advises that they should be followed immediately.
The New Rules
- People should not leave their homes except for food shopping, essential medical needs, exercise and work for those who cannot do so from home
- People can meet one person from another household for outdoor exercise.
- Essential services such as supermarkets, food shops, pharmacies and garden centres, places of worship, petrol stations and MOT services, laundrettes, banks and post offices, doctors, dentists and vet’s surgeries, car parks, public toilets and playgrounds may remain open
- Non-essential retail including pubs and restaurants will remain closed
- All schools and colleges will close to most pupils from Tuesday 5th January with remote learning until February half term
- Early years settings such as nurseries will stay open
- End-of-year exams will not take place this summer as normal
- University students should not return to campuses and will be taught online
- Restaurants can continue to offer food delivery, but takeaway alcohol will be banned
- Outdoor sports venues – such as golf courses, tennis courts and outside gyms – must close
- Outdoor playgrounds will remain open
- Amateur team sports are not allowed, but elite sport such as Premier League football can continue
Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be advised to limit the time they spend outside the home. They should only go out for medical appointments, for exercise, or if it is otherwise essential, and not for work or education purposes.
In mainland Scotland and Skye:
- Nursery, primary and secondary schools will close to all most pupils until February. Learning will move online
- People should only leave home for essential reasons, like the first lockdown last March
- Those who are shielding should not go into work, even if they cannot work from home
- A maximum of two people from up to two households can meet outdoors, excluding under-12s who can play together outside
- Places of worship will close except for weddings (up to five people) and funeral services (up to 20 people). Wakes are not allowed
- The definition of an essential business will be tightened with premises such as ski centres, large retail showrooms, and cosmetic clinics required to close
The programme of coronavirus vaccination using the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines continues, and the government says that all care home residents and their carers, everyone aged 70 and over, all frontline health and social care workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered one dose of a vaccine by mid-February.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.” In Wales, which has been in lockdown since 20th December, schools and colleges will shut until 18th January for most pupils.
Northern Ireland entered a six-week lockdown on 26th December and now plans to tighten restrictions and enter a period of remote learning for schools.
With the national lockdown unlikely to be eased until March, the government is also considering further measures such as restrictions on international travel.
See more information here.