For the third time since March, the United Kingdom is under a strict lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus and prevent its National Health Service from being overwhelmed.
For many Britons, this new lockdown — where people must stay at home as schools, colleges and workplaces are mostly shut — is a depressing start to 2021 in a nation that has been struggling with the effects of a highly spreadable variant of Covid-19.
In a sombre television address on Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the alarming rise in coronavirus cases across England combined with unprecedented pressure on the health service meant the government had no other choice but to impose the strict lockdown.
He said the nation now was in a straight race between containing the new aggressive variant and the roll-out of a national vaccination programme.
Earlier on Monday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh that she was forced to reimpose a strict lockdown for at least a month. Wales is already under a lockdown that is likely to be extended once it runs out in mid-January, with Northern Ireland following suit.
For pupils who did return to the classroom on Monday, their experience was short-lived. Schools will stay shut until mid-February too. Only shops selling essential goods can open, and Westminster is being recalled to bring legal force to the stay-at-home measures. For Britons, 2021 is too much like March 2020
The spread of the coronavirus variant over the Christmas period had meant many public health experts have called for a third lockdown over the past two weeks, with Johnson telling the nation on Sunday that he was monitoring the situation and would take action when needed — but that schools would open as planned on Monday.
By Monday evening, perhaps spurred by the worst spread of cases and daily figures that showed more than 50,000 people falling ill for days on end, he had no alternative but to shut the nation down for at least six weeks.
Crisis and cycle of lockdowns
Monday too saw the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines being rolled out for the first time, a development Johnson was quick to tell Britons offered hope to end this crisis and cycle of lockdowns.
Johnson has staked recovery hopes on an ambitious vaccine roll-out schedule that will see all those over 70, all care home residents and care hope staff, frontline workers and the extremely medically vulnerable vaccinated by mid-February.
For pupils who did return to the classroom on Monday, their experience was short-lived. Schools will stay shut until mid-February too. Only shops selling essential goods can open, and Westminster is being recalled to bring legal force to the stay-at-home measures. For Britons, 2021 is too much like March 2020.