By: Pramod Thomas
BRITISH prime minister Boris Johnson warned parliament on Wednesday(6) that ending England’s latest lockdown would require a ‘gradual unwrapping’ over time, pledging that schools would be the ‘very first things to reopen’.
England’s third national lockdown has legally come into force, with MPs set to vote retrospectively on it later.
Addressing parliament before the vote on the measures introduced earlier this week, Johnson defended his decision to implement the new lockdown at the time he did, saying the new, more contagious, coronavirus variant offered little choice.
The new measures, which include a stay-at-home order and the closure of schools to most pupils, were announced by the prime minister on Monday(4).
Trying to head off criticism that his decision to close primary schools a day after he told them they should open, Johnson said he did “everything in our power to keep them open” until “every other option had been closed off”.
“And when we begin to move out of lockdown I promise they will be the very first things to reopen. That moment may come after the February half-term, although we should remain extremely cautious about the timetable ahead,” he said.
“And as was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will be not a big bang but a gradual unwrapping.”
Johnson will update MPs, most of whom will not physically be in the chamber, on the new rules before the vote. The regulations are expected to pass with ease – as Labour is set to support the motion.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the government to use the lockdown to create a “round-the-clock” vaccination scheme in order to end “this nightmare”.
He also confirmed he would back the new restrictions on Wednesday.
Johnson is not expected to face a large rebellion from his Conservative Party in the vote on the lockdown.
All of the UK is now under strict virus curbs, with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown.
On Tuesday the number of new daily confirmed cases of Covid in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time. It is thought one in 50 people in private households in England had the virus last week – rising to one in 30 in London.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics also suggested more than one million people in England had Covid between 27 December and 2 January.
The UK government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, urged people to take the “stay at home” rules seriously and warned that the country is facing a “really serious emergency”.
The prime minister has said that 1.3 million people in the UK had been vaccinated so far.
The government has set the target to immunise all over-70s, the most clinically vulnerable and front-line health and care workers by mid-February – some 13 million people – which would require around two million vaccinations a week.
Britain has been among the countries worst-hit by Covid-19, with the highest death toll in Europe. With the appearance of the new variant, it has seen case numbers repeatedly reach record highs, stretching the country’s health service.