England’s third lockdown of the coronavirus crisis was implemented due to worrying Covid-19 rates and fears that a new variant of the virus will push hospitals to the limit.
As he announced plans to put England into lockdown again, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that 2% of the population was infected with coronavirus and hospital admissions were 40% higher than during the peak of the virus’ ‘first wave’.
The tier system was no-longer suitable due to the speed of the new variant, Mr Johnson said. Lockdown is necessary until the vulnerable are vaccinated and protected from the new variant, which he has pledged to achieve by February 15 for the four most at-risk categories.
The Government is hopeful about the progress it is making with the vaccination programme, with Mr Johnson describing the lockdown period as the “tough final stretch” of the pandemic, as England and the rest of the UK head towards a year of various restrictions on socialising, travel and leisure.
When did lockdown 3 start?
England went into lockdown on Tuesday, January 5. The countrywide order replaced the four-tier system of restrictions which was in place across England.
The North East – including the northernmost LA 7 region comprising of County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland’s councils, along with the Tees Valley area – was in the toughest Tier 4 category ahead of the lockdown, so pubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms, barbers, hairdressers were already closed. But the lockdown did bring in changes, such as school closures and no-longer allowing people to meet up outside.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales introduced their own lockdowns too.
When could lockdown 3 end, when will it be reviewed?
Boris Johnson told MPs that the lockdown restrictions will be reviewed every two weeks. Lockdown started on Tuesday, January 6, so a review is due around Tuesday, January 19/Wednesday, January 20. That said, it is extremely unlikely that the lockdown will be lifted next week.
In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister indicated that February 15 is a key date for reviewing the lockdown, as that is when the Government aims to have vaccinated all care home residents, the over 70s, frontline health workers and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable due to health conditions.
Downing Street says lockdown restrictions “are expected to last until the middle of February if the situation in hospitals improves”.
It adds: “By this point, the NHS hopes to have vaccinated everyone in the top four priority groups identified by the JCVI – including older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.”
In an address to the nation, the Prime Minister said: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus. And of course, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.
“I must stress that even if we achieve this goal, there remains a time lag of two to three weeks from getting a jab to receiving immunity. If the rollout of the vaccine programme continues to be successful, if deaths start to fall as the vaccine takes effect and, critically, if everyone plays their part by following the rules, then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half term and starting, cautiously, to move regions down the tiers.”
The legislation which approved the lockdown allows it to run until at least March 31. That is also when the current furlough scheme is due to end.
Newcastle aims to vaccinate all care home staff and residents by the end of next week.
What will happen after lockdown, will the tiers return?
A full removal of restrictions in January, February or March is highly unlikely, as the Prime Minister has suggested the tier system will return.
Speaking as he announced plans for the lockdown, Mr Johnson said: “As was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will be not a big bang but a gradual unwrapping.
“That is why the [susquently approved] legislation this House will vote on later today runs until March 31.
“Not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then, but to allow a steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis carefully brick-by-brick as it were, breaking free of our confinement but without risking the hard-won gains that protections have given us.”
When will schools reopen?
The Government is aiming to reopen schools to all pupils after the February half term, but coronavirus rates must drop and the vaccine programme must be on target, Mr Jonson said.
In Newcastle, that would see schools reopen on Monday, February 22.
When could pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops reopen?
Reopenings depend on how well-controlled Covid-19 is. The Prime Minister said England’s regions will ‘cautiously’ move down the tiers after the February half-term school break, if the vaccine programme is successful and deaths start to fall.
If that happens as planned, expect non-essential retailers, gyms and personal care services like barbers to be among the first to reopen, then restaurants and pubs for customers ordering food with drinks. Pubs for wet sales only are likely to be the last to reopen, as the Tier system required bars to be in Tier 1 if they are serving customers drinks without food.
What is the situation around the UK?
Around the UK, the number of positive Covid-19 tests dropped by 7.4% to 370,839, according to the Coronavirus Dashboard’s latest count of those tested positive in the past seven days.
While a drop is good news, the figures are still very high and the daily Covid-19 death totals are heading to a new peak, with the number of deaths over the past seven days rising to 2,511 by January 14 – a 50% increase on the previous seven days. Covid-19 hospital admissions, the number of patients in the hospital and the number of patients on mechanical ventilation beds are all on course to reach record levels.
What is the situation like in the North East of England?
In the North East LA7 area, Covid-19 positive tests rose in Newcastle and North Tyneside, over the seven days to January 9. They dropped in Northumberland, County Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside, although rates remain high, particularly in Sunderland, County Durham and South Tyneside, which recorded Covid-19 case rates of more than 400 per 100,000 people, the Government’s Coronavirus Dashboard shows.
In the Tees Valley, every council area recorded a rate higher than 400 per 100,000.
Seven-day average figures for Covid-19 hospital admissions are at their highest point of the pandemic in the North East and Yorkshire NHS region, at 429.1 for January 9, according to the latest available data on the Government’s Coronavirus Dashboard. The number of coronavirus patients counted in hospitals every morning is similar to the November peak and is on course to rise above that. The number of patients hooked up to ventilation beds is also rising in the region (246 as of January 11) and is on course to surpass the November peak of 302.
When will things return to normal?
The short answer is, we do not know. Throughout the crisis, there have unsuccessful predictions about when we can return to our pre-pandemic lives, but confirmation that lockdown legislation can last until the end of March means we will have spent more than 12 months dealing with restrictions on our everyday lives.
If you are looking for some optimism, then Health Secretary Matt Hancock eyed summer 2021 for the return of a situation resembling normality.
Speaking on January 11, Mr Hancock said : “I’m determined to ensure every adult in this country has the chance to be vaccinated.
“And that as many as possible take up that chance to be vaccinated.
“Vaccines are important and I care about vaccines because I want our country to get back to normal as fast as possible.
“I want us to have that great British summer. And my team and I are working hard to deliver this as fast as possible, both to save lives and to make people safe and to protect the NHS and reduce the very significant pressures it’s under right now.”
However, keep in mind that Chief Medical officer Chris Whitty has said some restrictions could return next winter, as Covid-19 thrives in colder weather.