“Hardest Weeks Ahead”: England to Enter New Lockdown, Government says that Universities Should Move Online

After days of speculation and weeks of rising case numbers Prime Minister Boris Johnson sat at his desk in Downing Street at 8 PM this evening and informed the nation that there would be another national lockdown. This announcement followed similar news emanating from the various devolved nations around the UK.

From midnight tonight everybody in England must stay at home except for a number of permitted reasons in an attempt to prevent the National Health Service from being overwhelmed by a barrage of new cases. On Monday the UK recorded more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus, as it has consistently for the last week, and many hospitals are saying that they’re struggling to cope with the number of people coming through their doors and ending up in intensive care. Furthermore, after much wrangling between the government, local authorities, and trade unions primary and secondary schools will close and be expected to provide some form of alternative provision – a situation that is expected to continue until February half term. University students are being asked not to travel back to their term time accommodation and should remain where they are. Likewise higher education provision is expected to be online, the exception being for courses whose graduates will be future critical workers. Royal Holloway is yet to say if and how this announcement will impact its plans for the spring term.

The new rules in brief:

  • Stay at home – except for essential reasons such as shopping, for work if it cannot be done at home, or for exercise.
  • Primary and secondary schools are to close, along with colleges – exceptions to these closures will include provision for the children of critical workers and four children considered particularly vulnerable. Early years settings will remain open. End of year exams will not take place this summer and the Department for Education will be working with Ofqual to make alternative plans.
  • University students should not return to campus. Teaching should take place online unless the courses are for future critical workers.
  • Non-essential retail must close.
  • Hospitality can continue to offer delivery for food, but alcohol will be banned for takeaway.
  • Outdoor sports venues must close.
  • Amateur team sports are not allowed, but elite sport may continue.

Leader the Labour Party Sir Kier Starmer said that it was everyone’s responsibility to “pull together to make this work” and as a result his MPs would be supporting the package as it goes through Parliament.

Earlier today Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that it would become a legal requirement for those in Scotland to stay at home except for essential purposes and that schools would be closed until February. In Wales, similar news emerged with schools and colleges asked to move online until at least 18 January. The Northern Ireland executive will be meeting to discuss possible new measures.

Mr Johnson attempted to end his address on a positive note saying that vaccines would continue to be rolled out and that if the elderly, frontline healthcare staff, and the clinically most vulnerable could be vaccinated, and scientific understanding of the virus did not significantly change, then we could look forward to these restrictions beginning to be eased off by the start of March. He did, however, stress that the hardest weeks still lay ahead.