England will be placed under a new national lockdown as COVID-19 infections rise across the country, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a press conference Saturday.
The new lockdown is set to begin Thursday and last until Dec. 2.
Nonessential retail, leisure and entertainment businesses will be closed. Restaurants, bars and pubs will be allowed to offer take-out and delivery only. Schools, including universities, will stay open, as will workplaces where working from home is impossible — like those in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
Johnson said that people may only leave home for specific reasons, including education, work, outdoor recreation, medical appointments, shopping for essentials and providing care for vulnerable people. He noted that “exclusive support bubbles” between households will be permitted, and that children will be able to move between homes if their parents live separately.
“No one wants to be imposing these kinds of measures anywhere,” said Johnson. But, he added, “no responsible prime minister can ignore” the rising numbers.
Previously, Johnson had ordered local lockdowns in coronavirus hotspots, The New York Times noted. He said at the press conference it had been his “hope” had been that “strong local action” would have been sufficient to quell the rates of infection.
“Alas, as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst case scenario of our scientific advisers, whose models now suggest that unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day, a peak of mortality, alas, bigger than the one we saw in April,” he said.
He stressed the importance of preventing health care systems from becoming completely overwhelmed.
“Doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would get oxygen and who wouldn’t, who would live and who would die,” if the virus continued to spread unchecked, Johnson said.
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said there was “a significant rate of increase” seen “across virtually the entire country now.”
“We now have around 50,000 new cases a day, and that is rising,” he said.
The nation’s “furlough scheme,” which provides financial support for people unable to work because of the restrictions, will also be extended into December, Johnson said. Under that plan, employers have the option to furlough workers ― instead of laying them off ― and have the government pay up to 80% of the employees’ wages, with a cap of $2,500 a month per person.
The announcement comes after scientists from the British Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies told Johnson that the disease was spreading in England faster than previously forecasted worst-case scenarios, The Guardian reported.
Many of the new cases are women between the ages of 20 to 40, “because they’re exposed in retail, hospitality and some educational settings,” SAGE member Calum Semple said in an interview with BBC Radio 4 ahead of the press conference on Saturday, according to CNN.
But he added that the outbreak is “running riot across all age groups.”
Over the past week, the U.K. as a whole saw 158,864 new cases and 1,658 new deaths, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 992,874 cases and 46,319, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.