Last night Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a televised press conference that a new national lockdown will commence today.
A tough decision was made by Mr Johnson after a chaotic ‘back to school’ plan for millions of families in England this week. Thousands of children started the new year by going to primary school for just one day before being told they will be home schooling for the rest of this half term at least. This decision will cause inconvenience for a big section of society that rely on childcare and school services but it will ultimately save more lives from being lost unnecessarily.
This was another U turn in the government’s strategy to manage the rising cases of coronavirus as just last week the government insisted that schools should stay open. As a new strain of Covid-19 is spreading across the country in numbers higher than the peak of the pandemic in April, it became clear that the household mixing that is inevitable in schools has accelerated the number of people contracting the contagion. Although children are very rarely affected by Covid-19 there is a serious risk to the health and lives of teachers, parents and grandparents that is just too great at this time, so all schools in England were directed to switch to home learning.
The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty and the NHS Medical Director raised the NHS alert level to 5 which indicates the National Health Service could be overwhelmed in several areas during the next 21 days. (1)
Over the weekend the top team at number 10 have consulted with the leading scientists and looked at the hospital admissions this week and consequently the Prime Minister has made the only sensible decision under the circumstances. Private individuals and businesses in England are all trying their best to adapt to all the changes in government restrictions. After all the unexpected opening and closing of shops and businesses throughout the year, five days of Christmas mixing was cancelled and progressively strict Tier changes came into force. “GCSE and A-level exams are unlikely to go ahead as planned” said Boris Johnson (2) Now we are all facing our 3rd a full lockdown which could last into March and it is a lot to deal with for many people in lots of different ways depending on each household’s personal circumstances.
In statesmanly language Mr Johnson is now encouraging the country to stay at home unless you have a good reason like shopping for essentials, going for your allotted daily exercise outside, providing care or going for a medical appointment. It is permitted for two people to walk together. Only take-away food and drink will be available during January and into February. He said “the weeks ahead would be “the hardest yet” but he believed the country was entering “the last phase of the struggle.” (3)
The more transmissible nature of the new strain of Covid-19 means the goal posts keep changing. This makes it extra difficult for the epidemiologists and politicians to predict whether social distancing regulations will have the desired reduction in pressure that hospitals and community care centres are facing with limited resources. The Independent reported today that a professor of infectious diseases said that “England’s third lockdown might not be enough to stifle the new coronavirus variant.” (4)
The good news is that this action plan might actually work this time. If the roll-out of the Pfizer BioNTech and Oxford University / Astra Zeneca vaccines goes ahead at full speed the one million people that have been vaccinated so far will increase to at least 13 million over the next few weeks with the target set at mid-February.
“More than half a million doses are available today, with tens of millions more to be delivered in the coming weeks and months once batches have been quality checked by the MHRA. More than 730 vaccination sites have already been established across the UK and hundreds more are opening this week to take the total to over 1,000, helping those who are most at risk..” stated the government website yesterday when the first people ever received the Oxford University / Astra Zeneca vaccine to protect them against Covid-19. (5)
This will mean that the most vulnerable people in our society and those who are working on the front line will be protected from this spring.
Surely it is right to focus on getting this disease under control and prevent it from causing severe illness and then to set about getting the best education and rebuilding the economy. Summer schools and extra programs can be developed to help those who need it to catch up and progress with their education and career training.
During these vital months we can all do what we can to keep well and follow the guidance and attend any appointments to get jabs we might be lucky enough to receive. Then this just might be the last lockdown that is needed in the UK. Mass immunisation makes it unlikely for this awful virus to be able to continue to cause the major increases in demand for emergency and healthcare services, we are seeing during this winter flu season.
We are grateful to the scientists, biologists, doctors, nurses and volunteers for developing and testing these vaccines so quickly so we can manage this disease and get everyone back to enjoy a more normal life again this summer.
(1) ‘Covid-19 alert level: update from the UK Chief Medical Officers, Gov UK, 4 January 2021 ‘Covid-19 alert level: update from the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Gov UK
(2) ‘Tuesday briefing: England enters third national lockdown’ Morning Briefing, The Guardian 5 January 2021 (2) ‘Tuesday briefing: England enters third national lockdown’ The Guardian
(3) ‘What England’s new national lockdown rules mean for you.’ Jordan Kelly-Linden, Chris Graham, Lucy Fisher, The Telegraph, 5 January 2021 (3) ‘What England’s new national lockdown rules mean for you.’ Jordan Kelly-Linden, Chris Graham, Lucy Fisher, The Telegraph,
(4) ‘Covid news – live: Lockdown may not be enough to stifle new variant’ Samuel Osborne, The Independent, 5 January 2021 (4) ‘Covid news – live: Lockdown may not be enough to stifle new variant’ Samuel Osborne, The Independent,
(5) ‘First people to receive Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine today’ Department of Health and Social Care, 4 January 2021 ‘First people to receive Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine today’ Gov UK