U.K. orders strict lockdown as coronavirus variant surges

Next few weeks a "critical moment"

Zoe Christen Jones – CBS News

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered a new lockdown across Britain in an effort to contain a new variant of the coronavirus. In a televised address, Johnson called the next few weeks a “critical moment” in the country’s fight against COVID-19. 

The new measure forces the closure of all schools, shutters personal care services such as barbers and hairdressers, and bans in-person dining at restaurants. While fines do apply for those who leave their homes without valid excuses, there are exemptions in place for those gathering food, going to and from childcare, getting medical supplies, or true emergencies. 

Residents are asked to limit exercise outdoors to once a day. Meeting more than one person outside your house for picnics or drinks is not allowed.

Johnson said he understood the “inconvenience and distress” the rapid school closures would have on families. 

“We’ve been doing everything in our power to keep schools open because we know how important each day in education to children’s life chances,” Johnson said. “The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children — children as still very unlikely to be severely affected by the new variant of COVID-the problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.”

The new variant of COVID-19 was first detected in southeast England and is already fueling a dramatic surge in cases. More than 50,000 new coronavirus cases are being recorded daily and hospitals in some regions are already overburdened by an influx of patients. Johnson said the new variant is between 50 and 70% more transmissible, making it more likely to catch the virus and pass it on.

Before the announcement, over two-thirds of Britain had already been under the tightest, “Tier 4” restrictions. “Critically, if everyone plays their part by following the rules, then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown,” Johnson said.

The fast-spreading variant of COVID-19 has already traveled from the U.K to other areas around the globe. Most recently, it has been detected in New YorkCalifornia and Colorado, in patients without recent travel history. According to leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, there are “likely more cases” of the new strain around in the U.S.

More than 2.7 million people have contracted the virus in the U.K., with more than 75,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.