England has been placed under new more severe lockdown measures as a variant strain of the COVID-19 virus continues to sweep across the UK.
In a national address on Monday evening (UK time), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this lockdown, the third since the pandemic broke out, will last initially until mid-February.
Monday’s announcement follows a similar move earlier in the day by Scotland which will be under lockdown for the remainder of January.
Wales which went into lockdown on December 20th will review its restrictions on January 8th with the likelihood that it could be extended.
Prime Minister Johnson’s announcement came as pressure mounted on the government to keep schools closed.
Some schools reopened on Monday but many others remained closed in the wake of a row between the government, local councils, teachers unions and parents over concerns of the virus further spreading by reopening the classrooms.
Leader of the Opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer who on Sunday and again on Monday called on the government to close the schools, welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister.
In a television interview on Sunday, Mr Johnson was adamant that schools should remain open to avoid further disruptions to students learning.
He said then schools were generally safe environments.
However, from Tuesday, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move mainly to online remote classes with some face-to-face sessions for children of essential workers in the health sector and other key workers.
Nurseries will also remain open while childcare and support bubbles will stay in place.
The new lockdown across England, effectively Tier 5 up from the current Tier 4, means that residents must stay at home including persons who can work remotely.
Workers in the public service, manufacturing, construction and essential services are exempted.
People will be allowed outside to shop for necessities, exercise once a day, attend medical appointments, or provide care to someone outside their household.
The intensified restrictions announced for England, coupled with similar measures in the other ‘nations and regions; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, effectively put the entire UK under lockdown.
The Parliament (House of Commons) will be recalled from its winter recess on Wednesday to debate the measures announced by the Prime Minister.
It was expected that areas not touched in Mr Johnson’s Monday evening address, including the full duration of the lockdown and closing the borders, will be debated during Wednesday’s session.
Saying that the lockdown will be in place initially until mid-February, Mr Johnson was hopeful that tough measures along with the roll-out of vaccines against COVID-19 will by then have an effect in bringing the spiralling number of cases down.
He said the weeks ahead would be the "hardest yet", but that he was confident that the UK was entering what he called “the last phase of the struggle".
On Monday, the UK set another record with 58,784 new COVID-19 cases and 407 deaths.