Vaccine is light at end of lockdown tunnel but PM warns worst lies ahead

Beyond England Daily news Downing Street Health and Education Law and Justice

England is entering its third national lockdown with Boris Johnson warning the next weeks will be the “hardest yet” in the fight against the coronavirus.

The prime minister put England into its strictest restrictions since the start of the pandemic on the same day that vaccinations using the Oxford/AstraZeneca dose began.

Vaccination is the promised light at the end of a long dark tunnel as Johnson said the new rules will remain in place until at least mid-February.

All schools in England will be closed, the prime minister said, just a day after saying there is “no doubt in my mind that schools are safe”.

in an address to the nation, Johnson reiterated the original message from the first lockdown in March when he urged people to immediately “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”, explaining the NHS is under “more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic”.

Schools – safe on Monday, closed on Tuesday

Johnson called for “one last push” from the British people against the virus as he banned English people from leaving their homes except for specific reasons such as medical needs, food shopping, exercise and to go to work, for those unable to labour at home.

Having assured the nation that English schools were safe to open on Monday, the prime minister said all schools and colleges must close on Tuesday. Except to educate the children of key workers, such as police offices and medical professionals, whose children will be able to go to school while other pupils revert to remote learning.

The other rules in force in England will see all schools and colleges effectively closed and university students told not to return to campus with lessons put online. Restaurants will only be allowed to deliver food with alcohol off-sales banned, as too outdoor sports such as tennis and golf.

Johnson said the UK is entering “the last phase of the struggle” adding: “With every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.”

Vaccine rolled out – 53,000 initial doses

The prime minister’s announcement comes on the first day of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. The government has ordered 100 million doses but the key test will be prioritising the most vulnerable, starting with care home residents and carers, and the elderly.

In all there are 31 million people in the priority groups and the BBC report tonight that 13 million will be offered a vaccine by mid-February. More than a million have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which requires storage at extreme temperatures.

Its roll out continues and will be exceeded by the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which is cheaper and can be stored at fridge temperatures making it far easier to distribute to care homes and to target other priority groups across the UK.

The government’s goal is to administer two million vaccines per week and health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that from today there are “700 vaccination sites open across the UK, and by the end of the week it’s due to be over 1,000”.

Only 53,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine “are initially being rolled out at six hospital trusts in Oxford, Sussex, Lancashire, Warwickshire, and two in London,” reports Sky News, adding that the “bulk of the supplies will then be sent to more than 700 GP-led services and care homes.”

Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the world to get the Oxford vaccine on Monday, aptly in Oxford, and said: “I’m so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud it is one that was invented in Oxford.’

Scotland lockdown

Scotland has gone into a full lockdown from midnight until “at least” the end of January with all schools closed and people told to stay at home.

Nicola Sturgeon said the strict lockdown – similar to the first one imposed in March – is the result of a huge surge of Covid cases that threatens to overwhelm the NHS within four weeks.

The first minister addressed Holyrood on Monday (January 4) to tell the country that new laws will be in effect from Tuesday (January 5) legally requiring people to stay at home. The restrictions may be extended past February 1 under which people will be restricted to leaving the house only for specific reasons such as care giving, essential shopping, and exercise. Only two people from two households can meet up outside although the limit does not include children under 12 years-old.

People who are shielding must not go back to their workplace and all workers who can, should work from home where possible. All places of worship will close from Friday (January 8).

Police Scotland’s chief constable Iain Livingstone said officers will increase patrols and their “visible presence” throughout “our communities to explain the regulations and to encourage people to do the right thing”. He added: “Where officers encounter wilful breaches, they will act decisively to enforce the law.”

Sturgeon later tweeted: “Being back in lockdown is really hard to take for everyone, but it is necessary to slow down this new strain of the virus while we get people vaccinated. Please – for you own safety, that of your loved ones and of the whole country: Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives.”

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