U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a new month-long lockdown for England as COVID-19 cases surge across the country.
About 25,000 new cases of the disease are being reported each day in the U.K. Daily hospital admissions are nearing 2,000, and deaths have reached about 200 daily.
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said the prevalence of COVID has been going up “extremely rapidly” over the last few weeks after having been “very flat” due to social distancing measures in the spring and summer. If nothing is done, within the next few weeks the numbers are expected to reach 3,000 hospitalizations a day, above the spring peak, and deaths could reach 800 per day or more.
The lockdown is slated to start Thursday and last through Dec. 2. Parliament will vote on the measures on Wednesday.
Johnson said there was no alternative. “We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature, and in this country, alas, as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers.” Deaths could reach several thousand a day if the nation doesn’t act, he said.
Beyond the loss of life, an exponential growth in the number of patients will overwhelm the country’s National Health Service. “The risk is that for the first time in our lives, the NHS will not be there for us and our families,” Johnson said.
Unlike the first national lockdown in March, schools, colleges and universities will be allowed to stay open. “We cannot let this virus damage our children’s futures even more than it has already,” Johnson said during an evening press conference in London. He urged parents to continue sending their children to school.
Johnson said residents will be required to stay home except for education, work that cannot be done at home, exercise or recreation outdoors, medical appointments, or to shop for essentials or care for others. Pubs and restaurants will have to close except for takeout and delivery. Supermarkets will stay open.
The country’s program to replace 80 percent of the wages of those who cannot work, which was within hours of expiring, will continue through the lockdown, Johnson said.
The announcement represents a wholesale change from Johnson’s prior plans, which emphasized a regional approach to combating the virus spread. The Conservative leader had hoped to avoid another lockdown.
Wales has had a lockdown for a week already. Ireland, France, Belgium, Italy and other European countries are also in various stages of lockdown as virus cases skyrocket throughout Europe.
Johnson hedged on whether the lockdown could continue past Dec. 2, saying it will depend on the science.
Christmas will be “perhaps very different” this year, Johnson said.