UK goes back into strict lockdown as COVID-19 variant spreads
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The United Kingdom is going back under a draconian lockdown as a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading quickly around the country, and the world.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement in an evening address to the nation Monday Jan 4. The U.K. has seen more than 50,000 cases of COVID-19 every day for the past five days, and scientists believe a new strain of the novel coronavirus is to blame. It is said to spread 70% more easily than previous variants of COVID-19. The announcement covers primarily England, but other regions in the U.K. are also going into lockdown.
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In a statement, the government said, “Further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the National Health Service and save lives.”
The sweeping restrictions are a return to the extraordinary lockdown the country went through in March of last year. It is the third lockdown for the country since then.
Related: New U.K. travel bans
The new rules go into effect in the early hours of Jan. 6. They will include a stay-at-home order by law. Leaving home is allowed only for those performing essential tasks, like buying groceries and receiving medical care. Fines will be imposed on those caught violating the rules.
Additionally, people can only meet with one person outside their home on any single day. Leaving home for exercise is allowed, but should only be done once per day. The government asks that citizens stay local, and overnight stays away from home are not allowed. All pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes are closed except for takeaway. Alcohol is not allowed for takeaway. Non-essential retail is to shut down.
Schools and colleges will close as of Jan. 5 until at least Feb “half-term.” Church services and “communal worship” are allowed.
International travel is banned unless it’s for “essential work purposes.” Many countries had already banned travel from the U.K. as the new variant spread.
The new lockdown was announced just as the U.K. gave emergency approval to a new vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The new vaccine was approved along with the Pfizer vaccine, but is easier to store and distribute.
The lockdown announcement comes just a day after Scotland announced it was going into lockdown until at least the end of January.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland said she is requiring that people stay home and work from home wherever possible. Outdoor gatherings are limited to one person from another household only. Churches and other places of worship are closed. Group exercise classes are banned. Schools will largely be remote.
Sturgeon said she was “more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”
Northern Ireland has been under a six-week lockdown since Dec. 26. It has similar rules in effect.
Meantime, Europe is also dealing with surges in cases. The German newspaper Bild is reporting the government has agreed to extend a lockdown there until the end of January. Gibraltar, off Spain, went into a 14-day lockdown over the weekend. Greece has extended its own strict lockdown. France may be considering another lockdown as well.
Featured image of Old Bond Street in the Mayfair area of London. (Photo by Pawel Libera/Getty Images)
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