Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown as he warned the NHS could be overwhelmed in the next three weeks.
The decision follows a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, and our hospitals are now under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic.
The jump in cases has been attributed to the new variant of Covid-19, which scientists say is between 50 and 70% more transmissible than the original strain.
On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, an increase of over 30% in one week, and the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40%.
The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100,000, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3.
On 3 January, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24% increase on the previous seven days.
Four UK Chief Medical Officers have advised that the Covid threat level should move from level four to level five, indicating that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.
Mr Johnson said: “The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle.
“Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.
“And, thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight and we know exactly how we will get there.
“But for now, I am afraid, you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
As of today all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
All non-essential retail, hospitality and personal care services must close, or remain closed. Restaurants can continue delivery, takeaway or click-and-collect of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but venues will no longer be able to serve takeaway or click-and-collect alcohol.
Essential shops and garden centres can remain open. Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos must close, but the outdoor areas of venues such as heritage homes and botanical gardens can remain open, to be used for exercise. Playgrounds may also remain open.
Places of worship can also remain open, but worshippers may only visit with their household.
Indoor and outdoor sports facilities including sports courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools, and riding arenas must also close. Elite sport and disabled sport can continue, as can PE lessons for those children attending school.
Len Duvall OBE AM, Chair of the GLA Oversight Committee, said: “There is a need for stronger Covid-19 measures as cases across the capital continue to rise. The current Covid-19 restrictions are not working to bring down the number of cases we are seeing every day.
“The tier restrictions either haven’t gone far enough or they are not targeting where the virus is spreading most. The Mayor must work with the Government to ensure that the best system is in place to protect our city, each other, and the NHS.
“It’s so important that Londoners abide by the new restrictions. Hospitals across the capital are struggling with the number of people being admitted with Covid-19 every day. The nurses, doctors, cleaners, and other hospital staff across the capital are our neighbours, friends, and family. Londoners must come together as they did in March and keep everyone safe.
“As new measures come into force, stronger support packages are needed for those businesses and individuals who have been impacted the most by the Covid-19 restrictions. These businesses are doing the right thing by the city, the Government must do the right thing by them and provide stronger financial support.”
Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive of London First, also called for additional measures to protect businesses.
She said: “Businesses across the country will be wondering how they are going to survive into the spring. The Government must now extend business rates and VAT relief throughout 2021 and stand ready to pump further direct support to businesses forced to close.”
Richard Burge, Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, added: “With London already in a Tier 4 lockdown, our research shows that 2021 has started with business confidence at its lowest point since the financial crash in 2008.
“The Government must demonstrate through actions, not promises, that they will use this time wisely to put in place testing systems that will allow the economy to safely reopen once eased. The last lockdown failed to do that.
“The extension of the furlough scheme to the Spring was welcome, but it will remain a cliff edge as we get nearer, as are the end of the VAT and business rate relief periods. These must be extended. We also need to see an expansion of the grants programme delivered via councils, based on the number of businesses within a borough, rather than the number of residents.
“Government needs to understand that this is a London Marathon. You plan for the long-haul, you have feeding and water stations all along the way, and support after the finish line. The Treasury needs to produce their plan for this marathon. At the moment, they are absent on duty and London may fall as a consequence.”