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U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson announced Monday that England would enter a strict national lockdown until at least mid-February to stop the spread of a new coronavirus strain that has sent cases and hospitalizations soaring over the past month. “It is clear that we need to do more to bring this new variant under control,” Johnson said. “That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home.”
The new restrictions close in-person learning at primary and secondary schools and colleges, except for the children of essential workers. Nonessential stores will be closed, and restaurants will be restricted to takeout. Unlike during the initial lockdown, professional sports will remain open.
On Monday, 26,626 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in England — up over 30 percent compared to last week and 40 percent above the high at the beginning of the pandemic. With the U.K. reporting over 50,000 new cases a day since December 29, the nation’s chief medical officers warned on Monday that there is “a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
Shortly before Johnson’s announcement, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced more aggressive measures that will last at least until the end of January, including a rule in which residents can go out for exercise but can meet up with only one member of another household. “I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Sturgeon said. Wales and Northern Ireland are already under strict lockdowns.
Throughout the U.K., cases appear to be spiking due to the spread of a new coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7., which one initial study suggests is 56 percent more contagious than the dominant COVID strain. On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a B.1.1.7. case had been detected in New York, the fourth U.S. state to report the presence of the strain.
Also on Monday, the U.K. began administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, becoming the first nation to use that candidate to inoculate its citizens.