Prime Minister announces national lockdown

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Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a national lockdown and instructed people to stay at home to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.

The decision follows a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, and hospitals are now under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic.

This drastic jump in cases has been attributed to the new variant of COVID-19, which scientists have now confirmed is between 50-70% more transmissible.

On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, an increase of over 30% in one week, and the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40%.

The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100k, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3.

On 3 Jan, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24% increase on the previous seven days.

This afternoon, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have advised that the COVID-19 threat level should move from level four to level five, indicating that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.

From today, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person; go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home; exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area; meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one; seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse); and attend education or childcare (for those eligible).

From today, all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. While children are still very unlikely to be severely affected by COVID-19, the government recognises that schools must be included in the restrictions in order to have the best chance of getting the virus under control as schools can act as vectors of transmission, causing the virus to spread between households when rates are high.

Schools will be required to provide remote education for those learning at home.

Early years settings such as nurseries, alternative provision and special schools will remain open and vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities.

The government is also advising the clinically extremely vulnerable to begin shielding again, and letters will be sent to individuals with advice on what this means for them.

All non-essential retail, hospitality and personal care services must close, or remain closed. Restaurants can continue delivery, takeaway or click-and-collect of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but venues will no longer be able to serve takeaway or click-and-collect alcohol.

Essential shops and garden centres can remain open. Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos must close, but the outdoor areas of venues such as heritage homes and botanical gardens can remain open, to be used for exercise. Playgrounds may also remain open.

Places of worship can also remain open, but you may only visit with your household.

Indoor and outdoor sports facilities including sports courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools, and riding arenas must also close. Elite sport and disabled sport can continue, as can PE lessons for those children attending school.

The restrictions are now in effect and are expected to last until the middle of February.

Business reaction

Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said: “It is absolutely essential that we all put the health of our citizens first, and businesses will continue to step up in the national interest to support the NHS, employees and customers in the weeks ahead.

“In tandem we need to acknowledge that the economic impact of these new restrictions is significant. There are now a number of imperatives for government to support business. First, ensuring firms have the cashflow to make it through. Extending existing support has helped, but a broader range of measures will need to tackle this further hit to revenues. Second, the government must review and plug any coverage gaps from existing support that are now further exposed, for example in supply chains. And third, firms must have a clear line of sight and assurance that support will be there for as long as restrictions are in place so that they can stay the course rather than act precipitously.

“Meanwhile, British business stands ready to play its full part in the vaccine roll-out, increasing mass rapid testing and acting flexibly to support employees with caring responsibilities, while being attentive to the mental health of millions of employees.”

Director of Behnham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, commented: “The latest news of another national lockdown should do little to slow the momentum of the UK property market, given that official government advice still deems it ok to transact and move home.

“As a result, the industry will continue to service the vast number of homebuyers who have entered the market since last spring and this will ensure that many more will benefit from the current stamp duty holiday.

“With no speed bumps in sight for the time being, the market is now clear to accelerate through the gears throughout the coming year and we should see a healthy increase in transactions and price growth over the coming months, if not, across the remainder of the year.”

Managing Director of Enness Global Mortgages, Hugh Wade-Jones, commented: “It remains business as usual for the UK property market and as a result, it’s unlikely we will see any decline in the huge levels of buyer activity seen since last year, nor should we see property prices detract from their current upward trend.

“Billions of pounds in accelerated property transactions are also currently waiting to complete prior to the stamp duty holiday deadline on March 31st. It would have been a disastrous move for the government to have slammed the door in the face of these aspirational homebuyers so close to the finish line and would have no doubt caused a landslide of property transaction fall throughs and a drop in values had they done so.

“Of course, the industry must continue to operate with immense caution and all physical aspects of the home buying process itself must be met with extreme diligence to ensure the safety of all those involved.”

Managing Director of Barrows and Forrester, James Forrester, commented: “Many will be thankful that the government have refrained from placing the property market back into a pandemic induced cryogenic deep freeze. As one of the cornerstones of the UK economy, it’s vital that we remain open and able to service the unprecedented levels of market activity seen in recent months.

“While previous calls to work from home unless necessary will have caused many property professionals to struggle at the start of the last year, the industry was able to adapt and evolve to a remote, more digitally enabled way of working.

“With this practice remaining pretty much in place ever since, there should be little to no disruption for those currently selling and buying in the current market, and we expect to see no disruption as a result of this latest government announcement.”

Commenting on the  Prime Minister’s announcement of a new, national lockdown in England Business West Managing Director Phil Smith said:  “Businesses will understand why the Prime Minister has felt compelled to act on the spiralling threat to public health, but they will be baffled and disappointed by the fact that he did not announce additional support for affected businesses alongside these new restrictions.

“The lockdowns announced today are a body blow to our business communities, hard on the heels of lost trade during the festive season and uncertainty linked to the end of the Brexit transition period. Tens of thousands of firms are already in a precarious position, and now face a period of further hardship and difficulty.

“Billions have already been spent helping good firms to survive this unprecedented crisis and to save jobs. These businesses must not be allowed to fail now, when the vaccine rollout provides light at the end of this long tunnel. The financial support for businesses needs to be stepped up in line with the devastating restrictions being placed on them. Otherwise, many of these firms may simply not be there to power our recovery when we emerge once again.

“Enhanced support for businesses, a turbo-charged vaccine rollout, and delivery of existing promises on mass testing must be delivered to enable the UK to restart, rebuild and renew.”

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