U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that England will enter a six-week lockdown, as the spread of a highly contagious new coronavirus variant threatens to overwhelm the National Health Service.
It's England's third national lockdown, following the initial March restrictions during the start of the pandemic and a four-week "circuit-breaker" in November.
Large portions of England had already been under various degrees of lockdown, and Scotland imposed a month-long national lockdown earlier on Monday. Wales and Northern Ireland have been under tight restrictions since December, and it's unclear whether a stricter lockdown will follow.
A statement from the U.K.'s chief medical officers on Monday urged Johnson to move the U.K. COVID
-19 alert level from "Level 4" to "Level 5," warning of a "material risk" of hospital systems being overwhelmed in the next 21 days.
Under the new restrictions, people in England will be mandated to stay home until mid-February, with exceptions for leaving home for exercise, health care, shopping for necessities and avoiding domestic violence.
Unlike the second national lockdown, schools and colleges will be closed and moved entirely to remote learning.
What they're saying: "We now have a new variant of the virus, and it’s been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading," Johnson said in a national address.
"In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown that is tough enough to contain this variant. That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home."
The new variant of the coronavirus
has been found to have a greater degree of transmissibility, but there is "no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of disease or vaccine
efficacy," per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The fresh lockdown comes as more than a million people in the U.K. have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine
The U.K. was the first country to roll out both the Pfizer vaccine
and the AstraZeneca
-Oxford University vaccine
for emergency use.
82-year-old Brian Pinker on Monday became the first person in the world to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine
outside of clinical trials.