Since December 31, the UK authorities are expanding the maximum restrictive measures to combat coronavirus to most of England due to the rapid spread of the new strain. This was announced on Wednesday at a press conference by United Kingdom Health Minister Matt Hancock.
“Due to the spread of the new version of the coronavirus, now three-quarters of the population of England will live under the most stringent restrictions,” the head of the department said, noting that these measures will operate including in Birmingham (West Midlands county), the second most populous English city after London. In the British capital and the southeast of England, the toughest restrictions apply from 20 December.
The new measures will extend from Thursday to the cities of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby (Derbyshire), Stoke-on-Trent, and Manchester (Greater Manchester). In total, about 40 million people in England will face severe restrictions.
The fourth (maximum) level of threat of the spread of infection provides for a ban on the operation of stores that do not sell essential goods, hairdressers, and gyms, in addition to previously closed restaurants, pubs, and cafes. People are advised not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary and to refrain from traveling within the country and abroad. Restrictions are introduced on entry and exit from those areas where the fourth level of threat of the spread of infection operates.
Amid the spread of these measures to most of England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview with the BBC Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday that 60% of new coronavirus cases in the kingdom are caused by a new strain, first reported by Hancock on 14 December. Preliminary analysis suggests that it may be 70% more infectious, but British experts have not yet found evidence that it leads to more mortality.
The leaders of the rest of the administrative and political parts of the United Kingdom — Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — themselves determine the set of sanitary and epidemiological measures. In general, the most stringent measures are now in force on their territories, comparable to those in Britain.
Vaccination of the population
In the fight against the pandemic, the British authorities are pinning their hopes on a vaccination program for the population, which began on December 8. The first to receive the drug are healthcare professionals, nursing home residents, and people over 80. To date, more than 800,000 people have received the first of two vaccines from the American company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in the kingdom of 66 million people.
On Wednesday, the UK’s independent Medicines and Health Products Agency was the first in the world to approve a vaccine from the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Earlier, the United Kingdom signed agreements for the supply of 100 million doses of the Oxford drug, and in total London signed contracts for the purchase of over 350 million doses from various manufacturers.
The UK government expects that all residents of the country over the age of 50, as well as people at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus, will be able to receive the coronavirus vaccine by the end of spring 2021. We can talk about 25 million people — almost 40% of the population of the 66 million kingdoms. Previously, Hancock linked the lifting of restrictions to the gradual vaccination of the population. According to the minister, the current measures can be in effect for at least a couple of months.