England is facing a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a tough new stay-at-home order for England that won’t be reviewed until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus. It takes effect at midnight Tuesday. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown that began Tuesday.
Johnson and Sturgeon said the lockdowns were needed to protect the National Health Service as a new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 sweeps across Britain. On Monday, hospitals in England were treating 26,626 coronavirus patients, 40% more than during the first pandemic peak in April.
Many U.K. hospitals have already been forced to cancel elective surgery, and the strain of the pandemic may soon delay cancer surgery and limit intensive care services for patients without COVID-19, Professor Neil Mortenson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, told Times Radio.
“Over the weekend we talked about a slow-motion car crash, but I think it’s getting much worse than that now,″ he said.
Beginning Tuesday, primary and secondary schools and colleges in England will be closed for in-person learning except for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February. People were told to work from home unless it’s impossible to do so, and to leave home only for essential trips.
All nonessential shops and personal care services like hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only operate takeout.
Britain has reported over 75,500 virus-related deaths, one of the highest tallies in Europe.