On Wednesday, the UK’s third national lockdown legally came into force. Following the rapid rise of cases and the subsequent harsher restrictive measures. Prior to the national lockdown, the UK was divided into tiers based on severity, the highest tier – a newly instated tier four – was in response to a new COVID-19 variant that is estimated to be up to 70% more transmissible. This new variant also meant that the government retracted its proposed lifting of Christmas restrictions, whereby it allowed three households to gather over a five day period for Christmas. Instead many people were allowed limited or no contact over the Christmas period.
According to The Lancet, ‘in September, 2020, this variant represented just one in four new diagnoses of COVID-19, whereas by mid-December, this had increased to almost two thirds of new cases in London.’ The new tier four (previously a three tier system of differing levels of restrictions) saw the closure of non-essential shops, restaurants, and gyms asking people to stay at home as much as possible. It began around London, closing down the East of England next and travelling across the country until the Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown.
This nationwide lockdown, imposed in early 2021 urged businesses to work from home and closed schools, alongside the usual closure of non-essential shops and so forth. A stay at home order for everything other than essential travel such as food shopping, medication, traveling to the workplace (when it could not be done from home) and to escape violence was put in place. Many have criticized the government it its failure to act quickly enough, often backtracking on decisions and reportedly not following scientific advice.
Other areas of the United Kingdom, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is also now in lockdown. According to the BBC ‘and it is thought one in 50 people in private households in England had the virus last week – rising to one in 30 in London.’ On Tuesday, the 5th of January, a day after Boris Johnson announced the lockdown, the rate of daily confirmed cases in the UK reached the record number of 60,000. It is estimated that the number of patients in hospitals is up to 40% higher than it was during the first peak of the virus in 2020.
The UK’s scientific advisory board recommended that the UK should move into a ‘level five’ threat level, indicating that if severe action is not taken, the UK’s National Health Service could be overwhelmed within 21 days. Meaning that there would not be enough room in hospitals to treat patients with COVID-19 and the virus would quickly overwhelm the country beyond repair. The government announcement outlined:
‘On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, an increase of over 30% in one week, and the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40%.
The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100k, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3.
On 3 Jan, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24% increase on the previous 7 days.’
The UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer and BioNtech vaccination and the AstraZeneca/Oxford Vaccine. It has apparently bought enough vaccinations to cover the entirety of the UK population and is currently rolling out a vaccine program targeting the most vulnerable first and working down the list regarding priority. The UK government also recently changed its vaccination strategy, aiming to give dose one of the two-dose vaccinations to as many people as possible as a priority, perhaps lengthening the time between doses to do so. It is unclear as to whether this will be successful in achieving quick and widespread protection, and the UK is also the first country to try such a method.
Boris Johnson pledged, in his lockdown speech on January 4th, that he would have offered inoculations to all those in the top four priority groups by 15th of February 2021, which is an estimated 13.9 million people. He stated: “By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI).” On the 5th of January 2021, the government announced that approximately 1.5 million people had been vaccinated so far.
The priority groups are in the following order:
1 – Residents in a care home for older adults and their careers; 2 – Those aged 80 and over
and frontline health and social care workers; 3 – Those aged 75 and over; 4 – Those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals; 5 – Those aged 65 of age and over; 6 – All individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality; 7 – Those aged 60 and over; 8 – Those aged 55 years and over; 9 – Those aged 50 years of age and over.
Despite the hope of a better 2021, like many other countries, the UK is facing a difficult and uncertain period facing the coronavirus crisis, with the entirety of the country in another indefinite lockdown, and millions facing an unimaginably difficult time, hope is on the new vaccination to alleviate some of the strain and eventually restore a semblance of normality.