Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered England into a new national lockdown to try to slow a COVID-19 surge threatening to overwhelm parts of the health system before a vaccine program reaches a critical mass.
Mr Johnson says a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus is spreading at great speed and urgent action is needed to slow it down.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than any time since the start of the pandemic,” the UK PM said in a televised address on Tuesday morning (Australian time), ditching his regional approach to fighting the pandemic.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control.”
The actions come after several failed policies to suppress the virus, but carry on life as normal.
Britain grapples with the world’s sixth highest death toll (75,544 people had died by Tuesday) and cases have hit a new high.
The country’s chief medical officers said the spread of COVID-19 risked overwhelming parts of the health system within 21 days.
The surge has been driven by the new variant, officials said, and while they acknowledged the pandemic was spreading faster than expected, they say there is also light at the end of the tunnel – vaccinations.
Mr Johnson earlier touted a scientific “triumph” as Britain became the first country in the world to start vaccinating its population with Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot.
On Monday (local time) dialysis patient Brian Pinker received the first vaccination outside of a trial.
“I am so pleased to be getting the COVID vaccine today and really proud it is one that was invented in Oxford,” said the 82-year-old retired maintenance manager.
But even with the vaccines being rolled out, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has kept rising.
A record 58,784 new cases of the coronavirus were reported on Monday.
Moving a few hours ahead of Mr Johnson, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed the most stringent lockdown for Scotland since last spring.
UK scientists have expressed concern that COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in the country may not be able to protect against a new variant that emerged in South Africa and has spread internationally.
The following countries are among those that have reported variants of the novel coronavirus, first detected in China a year ago, among their populations.
- The UNITED STATES reported three cases of the variant B.1.1.7, originally documented in the UK, in Colorado, California and Florida;
- SWITZERLAND has documented five cases of the variant from the IUK and two cases of the South African mutation, a health ministry official said, adding he anticipates more cases will emerge;
- DENMARK has identified 33 infections with the variant spreading in the UK;
- FRANCE, with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the European Union, recorded its first case of a variant in a Frenchman arriving back from London;
- INDIA has found 38 cases of the variant found in the UK;
- JAPAN detected the variant found in South Africa, the government said, the first such discovery in a country that has already identified more than a dozen cases of the variant spreading in the UK;
- SOUTH KOREA said the variant found in the UK was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London on December 22. Officials vowed to speed up vaccinations;
- Self-ruled TAIWAN, claimed by neighbouring China, confirmed its first case of the UK variant in a traveller from the UK;
- NORWAY said the variant circulating in the UK had been detected in 23 people while the variant circulating in South Africa had been detected in one person.
- AUSTRIA has found four cases of the coronavirus mutation first detected in the IUK and one case of the South African mutation, Franz Allerberger of public health agency AGES told a news conference on Monday;
- AUSTRALIA said two travellers from the United Kingdom were carrying the variant found in the UK;
- TURKEY has banned Britons from entering the country after detecting 15 cases of the new variant in travellers from the UK, the government said;
- GREECE has detected four cases of the variant in people who recently travelled from the UK, a Health Ministry official said;
- CYPRUS has discovered 12 cases of the variant in people who recently travelled from the UK;
- Health officials in IRELAND said increased socialising around Christmas – and not a new variant – had driven a surge in infections. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Wednesday the highly infectious new variant discovered in the UK was spreading in Ireland at a rate that has surpassed the most pessimistic models available to the government;
- JORDAN has detected its first two cases of the variant spreading in the UK;
- GERMANY said the variant from the UK had been found in a passenger flying to Frankfurt from London on December 20. It seems to have been present in Germany since November, the Die Welt daily reported;
- ITALY detected a patient infected with the variant found in the UK, the health ministry said;
- The variant linked to the UK has been detected on the island of Madeira in PORTUGAL, the regional civil protection authority said;
- Health officials in FINLAND said the variant circulating in the UK has been detected in two people while the variant spreading in South Africa has been detected in one person;
- SWEDEN said the variant circulating in the UK had been detected after a traveller from Britain fell ill on arrival and tested positive;
- Officials in CANADA said that two confirmed cases of the variant detected in the UK had appeared in the Canadian province of Ontario;
- CHILE said it had recorded its first case of the UK variant;
- LEBANON detected its first case of a variant of the coronavirus on a flight arriving from London;
- The UNITED ARAB EMIRATES discovered a “limited number” of cases of people infected with a new variant, a government official said. Those affected had travelled from abroad, without specifying from where or the number of cases;
- SINGAPORE confirmed its first case of the variant found in the UK, the patient arriving from Britain on December 6 while 11 others who were already in quarantine had returned preliminarily positive results. Singapore was seeking to verify two others suspected of being infected by the variant;
- ISRAEL detected four cases of the coronavirus emerging in the UK. Three of the cases were returnees from England;
- The variant spreading in the UK appears to have infected two students who returned to HONG KONG from the UK, the Department of Health said;
- PAKISTAN health officials said the variant found in the UK had been detected in the southern province of Sindh.