Isabel Hardman

Boris Johnson announces a third national lockdown

(Photo by Andrew Parsons / No. 10 Downing Street)
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Boris Johnson has announced that England is going into a third national lockdown – but a much stricter one than we saw in the autumn. The government has also been forced to accept that A-levels and GCSEs will not be going ahead this year because all schools will close from tomorrow, save for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister asked people to stay at home from Monday, with a legal requirement to do so being introduced in regulations this week.

The lockdown will run until the middle of February. He explained that scientists had concluded the new variant was 50-70 per cent more transmissible and that hospitals are under the worst pressure of the entire pandemic. He argued that a lockdown which was 'tough enough' to slow the spread was necessary until the vaccine had been sufficiently rolled out. He said:

With most of the country already under extreme measures it is clear that we need to do more together.

People will only be allowed to leave their homes for a limited number of reasons (you can read the full rules here), including going to work if it is impossible for them to work from home (such as construction workers and cleaners); to shop for necessities like food and medicine; to exercise locally with just one other person from outside their household and limited to once a day; to provide care or help to a vulnerable person; to attend medical appointments or escape violence and abuse. 

Outdoor sports venues will close, outdoor team sports will not be permitted, but playgrounds will remain open. Takeaway and click and collect sales of alcohol are to be banned because people have been tending to collect drinks and then congregate outside venues in a way that they don't when ordering food.

Police will, once again, be able to enforce these rules under legislation expected to come in on Wednesday, usually with fines. Ministers are expecting to review the rules on 15 February, while the hope in government is that England can return to a tiered system by 22 February around the time of February half term. 

Why has Boris Johnson announced this now, when the trends on the spread of the virus have been clear for a while? The Prime Minister was briefed on Monday about the spread of the new variants, and following the decision of the chief medical officers to upgrade the Covid threat level to 5, decided that there was no option but to implement the national lockdown. He then briefed the cabinet on the measures at 6 p.m. and also had a discussion with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Johnson was keen to emphasise that the difference between this lockdown and the one last March is that there is now a vaccine and there is now a route back to something more like normality. The NHS expects to have offered the vaccination to everyone in the top groups of elderly, clinically extremely vulnerable and frontline health and social care workers by mid February, he said. And he cautioned that there would still be a time lag after people receiving the jab and their immunity levels being sufficiently high. But he still set a date for restrictions starting to relax a little from mid-February. ‘I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle,’ he said.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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Topics in this articlePoliticscovid-19