The first time around, Britain kept its borders open to international travel. But the government said it was now reviewing whether to take action on inbound flights after another new strain emerged in South Africa. Officials underlined the severity of the spread now compared to last spring, owing to the variant which emerged in southeast England.
Hospital admissions are now 40 percent higher than the spring peak reached on April 12. On January 4, there were 26,626 covid patients in hospital in England –- an increase of more than 30 percent on the same day a week before. “We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed,” the UK medical officers said.
Britain — one of the worst-affected countries by the global health crisis, with over 75,000 deaths — has been pinning its hopes on the mass vaccination drive. But more than 50,000 positive cases were recorded across Britain every day for the last week.
Some 44 million people — more than three-quarters of England’s population — had already been advised to stay at home and work remotely under a patchwork of regional restrictions.
With the new lockdown, all non-essential shops will be shut across England, along with bars, restaurants and other hospitality and entertainment venues.
The House of Commons has been recalled from its Christmas and New Year break to vote on the new measures on Wednesday. The leader of the main opposition Labour party, Keir Starmer, signalled his support for the lockdown after slamming the government over the weekend.
The announcement overshadowed the first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine given to a member of the public outside a clinical trial. Brian Pinker, 82, a retired maintenance manager on dialysis for kidney disease, got the shot at an Oxford hospital, and said it was “the only way of getting back to a bit of normal life”. Some 530,000 doses are to be administered at new vaccination sites across Britain, adding to those already giving the Pfizer-BioNTech jab since early last month.
Britain became the first country in the world to approve the use of a vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech on December 2, and has already given nearly one million people a first dose.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is far cheaper than its rivals, costing about £2.50 ($3.40, 2.75 euros) per dose, making it affordable for developing countries. It can also be kept in the fridge, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s requires storage at ultra-low temperatures.