England will remain in a national lockdown until at least early March when schools are set to reopen, Boris Johnson has said, and travellers into Britain from high-risk nations will now have to quarantine inside hotels.
- England will remain in a national lockdown until at least March 8, when schools are set to reopen to all students
- The UK passed 100,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, and recorded a further 1,700 on Wednesday
- Travellers from high-risk countries will be forced into 10-day hotel quarantine
The British Prime Minister made the announcement to Parliament on Wednesday, saying his Government would produce a “gradual and phased” plan for leaving lockdown on the week of February 22, when more information is known if vaccines reduce transmission of COVID-19, as well as illness and death.
The UK currently has the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth-largest worldwide, with deaths topping 100,000 on Tuesday and that number grew by an additional 1,725 deaths on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson said he acknowledged the decision will be “frustrating” for students, teachers and parents, but that it was a necessary one as the UK remains in a “perilous” situation with more than 35,000 people in hospital with COVID-19.
“We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday the 8th of March, with other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter, as and when the data permits, then or thereafter,” he said.
Britain is engaged in a huge vaccination program, having already vaccinated more than 6.6 million people with their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and aiming to have nearly 15 million people from the four most vulnerable groups vaccinated by mid-February.
England has been in national lockdown since January 4, with all non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants closed and some schools only operating for the children of key workers.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all also in their own versions of lockdown, brought about by a highly-transmissible and potentially deadlier version of COVID-19 that has been spreading in Britain since December.
Hotel quarantine introduced, but only for some
Mr Johnson announced that Britain will adopt an Australia-style hotel quarantine system for its own citizens and other travellers in an effort to stop the spread of newly-identified variants of COVID-19, such as strains identified in Brazil and South Africa.
But unlike Australia, there will be no caps on passenger entries and only people coming in from countries designated “high-risk” will have to quarantine for 10 days in hotels or government-provided accommodation.
People will still be allowed out of the country providing they can explain the reason they need to leave, in a check to be undertaken before their departure.
The UK currently has banned all incoming travellers from 22 counties, including most of South America, Portugal and South Africa, while all other passengers must present a negative COVID-19 test before flying.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said there would also be more police checks on arrivals into the country, and took aim at social media influencers flocking to Dubai or families heading to European ski fields for holidays.
“It is clear that there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day,” she told Parliament, citing cases of people turning up at a London train station with skis.
“We see plenty of influencers on social media showing off about which parts of the world that they are in, mainly in sunny parts of the world.
“Going on holiday is not an exemption.”
The Government has been criticised for not implementing incoming travel restrictions earlier in the pandemic, with audio leaking last week of Ms Patel herself admitting she advocated shutting borders when the virus was taking hold of Europe last March.
Ms Patel said more details of the new measures, which will only apply in England, will be announced next week, with the devolved nations also set to announce similar restrictions.