As you will now know, last night the Prime Minister announced the return to a full national lockdown. This is on much the same basis as the lockdown last March and has been triggered by the new variant of the virus which is spreading rapidly across the country.
The devolved administrations took the same decision within the last 24 hours and the Chief Medical Officers raised the UK alert level to 5 to reflect the possibility that the NHS could become overwhelmed within 21 days if immediate action is not taken.
I joined a call with Matt Hancock and Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, this morning to get an accurate picture of the medical situation.
Jenny Harries said that in most parts of the country the virus has an average rate of 400 per 100,000. The highest rates (currently in London, Essex and Kent) are at around 1300 per 100,000. Significantly even those parts of the country with the lowest rates are showing a rate of infection that is doubling roughly every four days, leading to a material risk that the NHS will be overwhelmed.
Key points are of course that primary and secondary schools are closed and learning will take place remotely (except in certain limited circumstances and I refer you to the guidance posted below).
Summer exams for Year 11 and Year 13s will not go ahead as planned.
Many of you wrote to me about the re-opening of schools following my last post and I listened carefully to the powerful points you raised and took these up with Ministers. I held off writing a further post until I knew the official Government response. I have more calls today with Education Ministers and will provide more information as I have it.
There is an emergency package of financial support that the Chancellor has announced this morning which I will set out in a separate post.
The guidelines for the current period of lockdown are set out in this attachment. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home
I refer you to this in the first instance and, as ever, if you have any further queries please contact me via email on email@example.com
Finally, whilst a further lockdown is obviously worrying and dispiriting at the start of a new year, this differs from those that have preceded because of the existence of a vaccine. I spent the day yesterday speaking to national and local leaders on the vaccine rollout – details of which will follow in my next post – however the key points are that:
- Two products are on the market and a third is likely to receive formal authorisation in the coming weeks (Moderna).
- The target is to vaccinate the first four priority categories before easing restrictions. They are:
- All care home residents;
- All those who are over the age of 70;
- All frontline health/social care workers; and
- Everyone who is recorded as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable.
- With the availability of multiple vaccine products and a mass rollout operation (including the involvement of the Army) it is hoped that this will be achieved as swiftly as possible.