BORIS Johnson expressed his "bitter regret" today as he plunged millions more Brits into Tier 4 and ordered schools to stay closed for longer – but vowed that "freedom is in reach".
After a dramatic day in Westminster, the PM said the mutant strain of Covid had forced him to act again, on a day which saw 50,000 new positive cases and nearly 1,000 new deaths recorded.
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School pupils in London and the South will have their return to school delayed, he confirmed, with millions more people put in tougher restrictions to try and combat the rising cases.
He told the nation at a press conference this evening: "No-one regrets these measures more bitterly than I do. But we must take firm action now."
Grim slides revealed the extent of the horror facing Britain's hospitals – many of which are said to be on the brink of being overwhelmed.
Boris warned "we are still in the tunnel of this pandemic" but the light was "visible" and the "tunnel has been shortened".
He added: "And we are moving faster through it, and that gives me great confidence about the future in the Spring.
"So for now let’s double our efforts, let’s follow the rules, protect our NHS and together make 2021 the year we leave this tunnel behind us."
Mr Johnson told yesterday's press conference he hoped the nation could be back to normal by the spring – with pubs back open and perhaps even the end of social distancing.
The PM said he hoped it would all be on the path back to normality by April thanks to the AstraZeneca jab – which was given the green light of approval this morning and will be rolled out from Monday.
He added: "If we're right, if the vaccination programme does have the positive effects that we think it can have – and I stress these are ifs – then clearly a lot of the non-pharmaceutical interventions – the closures of hospitalities – will recede into the past and we will be able to do things very, very differently".
But he added: "There may be things we want to continue with to protect ourselves against the virus for a while to come, but the hope is basically that we will be able to move beyond [that] if the vaccine rollout programme is effective."
It came as:
- 50,000 cases and more than 900 deaths were recorded today – the highest death figure since April
- Boris warned people not to go out and party on New Year's Eve tomorrow
- The Oxford University/AstraZenca vaccine was approved by regulators today – with a million doses a week to be rolled out from next week
- And a change in strategy is expected to take place so people can get the vaccine sooner – with ministers to prioritise the first jab and give the second within 12 weeks
- A major incident was declared in Essex over Covid as hospitals struggle to cope with demand
Another 20 million Brits were plunged into Tier 4 lockdown at midnight tonight to try and tackle the Covid spread.
The new super-spreading mutant Covid strain now accounts for 60 per cent of all infections, the PM warned yesterday.
Ministers announced that a staggering 78 per cent of England is now living under the most draconian measures.
Essential shops have been ordered to close across these areas, while pubs and restaurants are shut apart from for takeaway.
Hairdressers and gyms must close their doors.
And Brits living in T4 areas must stay at home unless they have a “reasonable excuse”.
They are only allowed to meet one other person outside of their bubble outdoors.
MPs said they expect every single person in England to be under T4 restrictions by the end of January.
The PM said he considered slapping a national lockdown on England – but decided to hike up tiers instead.
But he also suggested the Tiers system could be in place until April, with millions locked into Tier 4 until then.
SCHOOL'S STILL OUT
In nearly 50 Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, ALL schools will have to close, including primaries, it was confirmed tonight.
That includes most of London, Essex, Kent, and a handful of areas in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East Sussex – but key workers and vulnerable pupils can still attend.
These will stay closed until at least January 18 – but will be reviewed every two weeks.
Full list of areas where primary schools will stay closed until further notice
- Secondary school kids' return date is already pushed back two weeks – any schools in the below areas will be reviewed beforehand to see if they can open
- Areas with primary schools which will stay closed too are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
- Epping Forest
- Castle Point
- Southend on Sea
- Tonbridge and Malling
- Tunbridge Wells
- Milton Keynes
- Three Rivers
Elsewhere across England – in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 and some lesser-hit Tier 4 areas – primary schools will return on January 4 as planned.
Boris Johnson told the nation tonight at an emergency press conference: "I am afraid the start of the new term will be delayed until at least January 18, when the latest data on those infection rates will be reviewed.
"That is because the rate of transmission in these areas is so high, and there’s just such pressure on the local NHS, that extra action is required to control the spread of the virus."
And he warned: "depending on the spread of the disease it may be necessary to take further action in their cases as well, in as I say the worst affected areas."
Expected return dates for schools
Most primary schools: Open on January 4 as planned
Key exam years: return on January 11 as planned
Secondary schools: Delayed until January 18 (due to go back on January 11)
Covid hotspots: all primary and schools stay shut except for key workers and vulnerable kids. No timetable, but likely to be beyond January 18
NO NEW YEAR PARTIES
Boris also warned the nation – as Mr Hancock had earlier today – not to go and celebrate New Year with others.
He said people should stay home and not hold gatherings as the nation rings in 2021 – and the new Brexit deal.
The PM somberly told the nation: "I must ask you to follow the rules where you live tomorrow night and see in the New Year safely at home.
"That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors, unless they are in the same household or support bubble, and avoiding large gatherings of any kind."
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