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It's lockdown No. 3 for England, at least six weeks at home

By The Associated Press
Posted 9:55AM on Tuesday 5th January 2021 ( 4 months ago )

LONDON (AP) — England is entering a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a tough new stay-at-home order for England that takes effect at midnight Tuesday and won’t be reviewed until at least mid-February. Few in England expect any relief until after the traditional late February school break.

Scotland's leader, Nicola Sturgeon, also imposed a lockdown there that began Tuesday. Northern Ireland and Wales had already imposed tough measures, though rules vary.

Johnson and Sturgeon said the restrictions were needed to protect the hard-pressed National Health Service as a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus sweeps across Britain. On Monday, hospitals in England were treating 26,626 COVID-19 patients, 40% more than during the first peak in mid-April.

“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet, but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle,” Johnson told the nation Monday night. “Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against COVID and in favor of the British people.”

Many U.K. hospitals have already been forced to cancel elective surgeries and the strain of responding to the pandemic may soon delay cancer surgery and limit intensive care services for patients without COVID-19. Intensive care units are full and spilling over, said Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst of the King's Fund think tank.

"It’s not hyperbole to say that the (National Health Service) is going through probably the toughest time in living memory,'' he told The Associated Press. Anandaciva said some emergency rooms have waits of 12 hours.

“I was speaking to an emergency care physician from London last week, and she was saying that half of her shift was spent delivering care in ambulances because they couldn’t get the patients into the emergency department,'' he said. “So you put that all together and you paint a picture of the health service that’s under incredible pressure.”

Public health officials hope the new lockdown will reduce the strains on the NHS while they roll out a national vaccination program that targets older people, health care workers and those with conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Britain has approved vaccine shots from two different manufacturers so far — one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

The government hopes to give a first dose of vaccine to everyone in its top four priority groups, or 13 million people, by the middle of February, Johnson said.

While the rollout is complicated, Anandaciva said the structure of the NHS will help it deliver the vaccinations. Besides hospitals, doctors and nurses, it can rely on other allied health care professionals, such as pharmacists, to give vaccine shots.

“That’s one area where you can really maximize the benefits of having a nationalized service because you can … establish hubs, you can pool staff, and you’ve got a very strong brand to attract people,'' he said. “I think the NHS is doing quite a good job of setting up the logistics of how you will get the vaccine into the right places. “

Johnson announced the lockdown after the chief medical officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales raised the U.K.-wide COVID-19 threat assessment to the highest level. The health system is already under “immense pressure,” and there is a risk that the NHS in some areas may be “overwhelmed” within 21 days, they said.

The new measures are similar to those imposed last spring, with people being told to work from home unless it’s impossible to do so, and to leave home only for exercise or essential trips such as grocery shopping. Schools across England were ordered to close their doors except for the children of critical workers and most vulnerable children, and shift to online instruction beginning Tuesday. University students won’t return to campus until at least mid-February.

All nonessential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will stay closed. Restaurants will be allowed to offer takeout services only.

New COVID-19 infections have soared in recent weeks as public health officials struggled to contain the new variant, which the government says is 50% to 70% more contagious. The number of confirmed new daily infections in the past seven days jumped 50% from the previous week, and coronavirus-related deaths rose 21% in the same period.

Britain has been seeing over 50,000 new infections a day for a week and has reported 75,500 virus-related deaths overall, one of the highest tallies in Europe.

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Nearly empty pavements on the normally busy Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne, northern England, early Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021, the morning after new stay home coronavirus restrictions were imposed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out further measures including closure of schools as part of a seven week lockdown period in England in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.(Owen Humphreys/PA via AP)
14-year old student Isla Stanton, begins her home school lesson via a video link, in Ashford, south England, Tuesday Jan 5, 2021, following new lockdown measures to limit the coronavirus including the closure of schools. The lockdown and home schooling has become a major issue, highlighting the wealth divide with provision of internet connectivity, equipment issues and the impact on upcoming school exams. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out further measures including closure of schools as part of a seven week lockdown period in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.(Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)
A man wearing a British union flag face mask walks past a coronavirus advice sign outside a bank in Glasgow the morning after stricter lockdown measures came into force for Scotland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021. Further measures were put in place Tuesday as part of lockdown restrictions in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.(Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
A woman crosses an empty road in Glasgow city centre, Scotland the morning after stricter COVID-19 lockdown measures came into force for mainland Scotland Tuesday Jan. 5, 2021. (Andrew Milligan/PA via AP)
A man wearing a face mask to curb the spread of coronavirus walks past traditional red phone boxes in the City of London financial district in London, Jan. 5, 2021, on the first morning of England entering a third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night announced a tough new stay-at-home order that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
People walk across London Bridge, in London, backdropped by the Shard, the tallest skyscraper in Britain, Jan. 5, 2021, on the first morning of England entering a third national lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak began. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday night announced a tough new stay-at-home order, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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