How the UK got into and out of – and back into – a national lockdown
The Prime Minister ordered people only to leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”, banning mass gatherings and ordering the closure of non-essential shops.
Mr Johnson announced his phase two strategy on May 10, outlining a gradual easing of the restrictions, rather than a wholesale lifting of the lockdown. However, reaction to his speech was fierce, with many accusing the Prime Minister of confusing the British public.
On May 11, Mr Johnson published his “roadmap” to leave lockdown, setting out a three-phase strategy to gradually lift the current restrictions.
On June 23 – exactly three months after the country was put into lockdown – Mr Johnson hailed the beginning of the end of Britain’s “national hibernation”.
The Prime Minister allowed families and friends to mingle indoors and even go on holiday together from July 4. This day, which became known as Super Saturday, also saw pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen, as the two metre social distancing rule was reduced to one metre.
But Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, warned that many of new social distancing measures would have to remain in place “until this time next year” because a coronavirus vaccine is still a long way off.
On July 17, Mr Johnson set out his roadmap for ending lockdown, which allowed remaining leisure facilities to reopen and all beauty treatments to resume from August 1. Mr Johnson also relaxed official guidance advising people to “work from home if you can” in a bid to restart the economy.
The government is keen to avoid another blanket lockdown. However, preventing a national lockdown will depend on how effectively the Government can respond if the infection rate rises quickly in multiple areas of the UK.
As of September 14, gatherings of more than six people are banned in England. The Government has introduced these tough new measures to combat a sharp rise in coronavirus infection rates.
On September 22, the Prime Minister announced a raft of new measures including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants, a 15-person cap on weddings and a return to working at home for office workers, which are likely to remain in place until March, a year on from the start of lockdown.
As the rate of new cases showed no sign of slowing, Mr Johnson announced on October 12 a new three-tier system of local lockdowns.
Faced with rising infections, Mr Johnson announced a new national lockdown across England on Saturday 31 October, after a rapid rise in coronavirus cases. The new measures came into effect on Thursday 5 November and ended on Wednesday 2 December.
On November 11, the Department of Education introduced a ‘student travel window’ between December 3 – 9, during which universities have organised the staggered departure of students back home for Christmas so as not to overload the public transport system.
How might we prevent another lockdown in the future?
The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was first administered on Dec 8 in 70 hospitals, and 300 GP’s in 53 areas of England should receive stock by Dec 14.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) granted the vaccine an emergency use license on Dec 2, and one million jabs were delivered to the NHS on Dec 3.
The UK has secured 40 million Pfizer doses overall, which has shown over 90 per cent efficacy at preventing Covid-19 in those without evidence of prior infection.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Oxford have said they hope to have vaccine results by Christmas and confirmed regulators are conducting a so-called “rolling review” to speed up the process.
Moderna has also revealed a vaccine which was up to 95 per cent effective in trials. Combined with the Oxford and Pfizer vaccine, the UK authorities have ordered enough shots to vaccinate most of the population.
Despite these advances, scientists have emphasised that the pandemic is far from over.
Head of the Imperial College vaccine programme professor Robin Shattock told Sky News that “one vaccine isn’t going to be enough” to tackle Covid-19.
“We don’t know if [the Pfizer vaccine] will be effective in all different groups, so the more vaccine candidates we have, the better the toolbox is,” he said.
“I think the biggest danger now that we’ve got a vaccine is that people may stop taking it seriously,” he added. “We need to remind people that it’s not all over until enough people have received the vaccine, and that we really know it works.”
The CEO of BioNTech, Professor Uğur Sahin, said he expects the antibody response in patients “will decline over time”, but mooted the idea of combining vaccines for people who no longer had an immune response.
Professor Wendy Barkley, an Imperial virology scientist who sits on the Government’s Sage committee, expressed over mutations after minks contracted the virus in Denmark.
“If mutations affecting the way antibodies can see the virus, maybe the vaccines we’re generating now won’t work quite as well as we’d hoped,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
Furthermore, on December 14, in his address to Commons, the Health Secretary also announced a new variant of coronavirus had been identified in England.
However, Mr Hancock has said it is “highly unlikely” that the new variant will cause a more serious disease or compromise the vaccine.
In his address to the Commons, he shared: “I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”
What else is being done?
Free vitamins for the elderly and vulnerable: On November 28, health officials shared that over 2.5 million vulnerable people across England will be given free Vitamin D supplements to assist them through the winter months. Those in care homes and those who are categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable will be offered the vitamin, which is renewed for its bone and muscle health benefits.
Normally, the skin produces Vitamin D after spending time in the sunlight; however, those at most risk have spent a significant amount of time inside while shielding from Covid-19. Officials suggest that everybody should consume 10 micrograms of Vitamin D over the winter period, however, there is no evidence that vitamin D will protect against catching, or treating the virus.