Boris Johnson has announced that the whole of England will face tougher measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, including the closure of all schools.
The closure of schools means that exams will be replaced with alternative provisions, Johnson announced. He also promised that those on free school meals would not be left to go hungry.
The Prime Minister gave no specific mention of when a national lockdown may be lifted, only adding that measures for schools might remain until mid-February at the earliest, leaving the fate of Hillary Term at Oxford in great uncertainty. The Government website does say, though, that: “Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February for all except future critical worker courses.”
Johnson said that people should only leave their homes for specific reasons such as shopping for essentials, working if absolutely necessary, and getting a coronavirus test. Those who shielded during the first lockdown will have to do so again, and will receive letters to tell them how to do so.
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes just a day after he insisted that he had “no doubt” that schools were safe, and told Andrew Marr that tougher measures were “probably” to come. However, he gave no time scale on when these measures were to be introduced at that juncture. Now, Johnson said, tougher measures will apply from “the early hours of Wednesday morning”.
Parliament will be recalled on Wednesday so that MPs can ratify the changes set out by the Prime Minister. Suggestions that the new lockdown measures were precipitated by the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s introduction of similar restrictions in Scotland earlier today have been played down.
The whole of the UK will move to the highest coronavirus alert level, 5, with medical experts warning that healthcare services risk being overwhelmed due to high numbers of cases being reported and similarly striking hospitalisation figures. The Prime Minister said that the new Covid-19 variant was anywhere between fifty and seventy percent more infectious than the previous version.
Monday marked the seventh day in a row where cases in England were recorded at above fifty-thousand. Johnson said tonight that twenty-seven thousand people are currently hospitalised with coronavirus.
Outdoor team sports games will be curtailed, although exercise outdoors will still be permitted for individuals. Elite team sports will be allowed to continue behind closed doors.
Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, commented on the measures: “These further restrictions are needed, but only because the PM hasn’t learned from his mistakes last year.” She went on to further criticise the government’s handling of the pandemic so far, adding, “Unless the government gets the R number under control using locally-led test and trace, and then keeps the virus suppressed with strict testing at the UK’s borders, this damaging cycle of boom and bust lockdowns will continue until the vaccine is rolled out.”
The Prime Minister was keen to emphasise that the arrival of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine would herald the easing of restrictions once it had been widely administered, even if there is a two to three week “lag” between receiving the jab and gaining some immunity.
Nonetheless, Johnson ended his address by saying that “you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”.