A second national lockdown will be imposed across England from midnight on Thursday with all nonessential shops, restaurants, pubs and leisure facilities to close for at least four weeks, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister dramatically escalated the country’s response to the pandemic in a press conference on Saturday evening, telling the public that “we must act now to contain this autumn surge”, with measures due to remain in place until 2 December.
People have been told to “stay at home” where possible, but will be allowed to leave their homes for education, medical appointments, to shop for essential goods, and to work if they cannot work from home.
Outdoor exercise will also be permitted, with members of the same household or one person from another household.
People will be allowed to leave home to care for vulnerable people, or to escape injury or harm. Takeaways and deliveries will continue to be allowed.
The furlough scheme, covering 80% of the wages of workers who are temporarily laid off, will be extended throughout November, the prime minister said.
Announcing the extension, Johnson apologised for the impact of coronavirus measures on businesses, saying: “I’m under no illusions about how difficult this will be for businesses which have already had to endure such hardship this year and I’m truly, truly sorry for that.”
Under the new regulations, which will be published in full on Tuesday and voted on by MPs on Wednesday, households will be banned from mixing indoors, with the exception of for childcare and other forms of support.
Support bubbles will remain in place, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
Unlike the first national lockdown introduced in March, schools, colleges and universities will remain open, as will childcare and early years care.
“We cannot let this virus damage our children’s futures any more than it has already,” Johnson said.
People who can work from home will be asked to do so, but those working in manufacturing and construction will be encouraged to continue going to work.
Johnson also announced a ban on overnight stays and outbound international travel, unless the trips are for work, while places of worship will be open for private prayer but not for services. He also confirmed that the Premier League would continue.
Despite the imposition of stricter new measures, shielding guidance will not be reinstated.
However, Johnson said those who are over 60, or have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, should be especially careful and minimise their contact with others.
He said it was vital to keep non-coronavirus healthcare operating, and insisted that people should continue to attend appointments and use NHS services.
The prime minister said the government would seek to end the measures in early December, but said the exit strategy from the regulations would vary according to the severity of the virus transmission rates in different areas of England.
He said he hoped the measures could enable families to reunite over Christmas.
“Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different. but it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now we can allow families across the country to be together,” he said.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, described the restrictions as “a devastating blow” to business communities.
Market confidence has been “hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach” taken by governments across the UK during the pandemic, he said.
He added: “Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions.”
He called for government support for businesses facing hardship, whether through loss of demand or closure, to be boosted.
He said: “The government must not squander the time afforded to them through another lockdown to enable mass testing and fix test and trace systems – which hold the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade organisation Abta, said: “Today’s announcement that holidays in the UK and abroad will not be allowed under lockdown in England will mean a complete shutdown for travel businesses which have already been severely damaged by the pandemic – but public health must come first.
“We’re pleased to see the government has recognised the significant impact the latest lockdown will have on businesses and has extended the furlough scheme until the start of December.
“The government must also make good progress with the Global Travel Taskforce, ensuring a testing regime is ready to go as soon as lockdown is lifted. Anyone due to travel imminently on a package holiday should speak to their travel company to discuss their options.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was unfair to pretend to the public that Christmas “will be normal”. The Labour leader told reporters: “I don’t think Christmas will be normal and I think we need to level with the public on that.
“This lockdown is going on to at least 2 December, everybody’s seen the figures, and, therefore, I don’t think it’s fair to pretend that Christmas is going to be normal in any sense of the word.”
The prime minister’s announcement follows a sharp increase in the spread of coronavirus across England in recent weeks. The Office for National Statistics estimated that 568,100 people were infected with the virus in the week ending 23 October alone.
According to modelling shared by the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, without further action, the NHS would breach its fixed and surged bed capacity by the first week of December.