British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a new month-long lockdown for England after being warned that without tough action a resurgent coronavirus outbreak will overwhelm hospitals in weeks.
On the day the U.K. passed 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, Johnson made a sudden about-face and confirmed that stringent restrictions on business and daily life would begin Thursday and last until Dec. 2.
He said at a televised news conference that “no responsible prime minister” could ignore the grim figures.
“Unless we act, we could see deaths in this country running at several thousand a day,” said Johnson, who was hospitalized earlier this year for a serious case of COVID-19.
Under the new restrictions, bars and restaurants can only offer take-out, non-essential shops must close and people will only be able to leave home for a short list of reasons including exercise. Activities ranging from haircuts to foreign holidays must once again be put on hold.
Unlike during the U.K.’s first three-month lockdown earlier this year, schools, universities, construction sites and manufacturing businesses will stay open.
As in other European countries, virus cases in the U.K. began to climb after lockdown measures were eased in the summer and people began to return to workplaces, schools, universities and social life. The Office for National Statistics estimated Friday that 1 in 100 people in England, well over half a million, had the virus in the week to Oct. 23.
As European countries such as France, Germany and Belgium in imposing a second lockdown amid surging caseloads, it looked inevitable that Johnson would have to follow.
Official figures announced Saturday recorded 21,915 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing Britain’s total since the start of the pandemic to 1,011,660. Britain’s death toll from the coronavirus is 46,555, the highest in Europe, with 326 new deaths announced Saturday.