Keir Starmer issues statement over Covid-19 lockdown
England is now in its third lockdown of the coronavirus crisis so far. A huge increase in case numbers in recent weeks has forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change tack, U-turning on previous restrictions and the reopening of schools, which are thought to be the hotbed of many of the new cases. Announcing the lockdown, Mr Johnson said: “I want to say to everyone right across the United Kingdom that I know how tough this is, I know how frustrated you are, I know that you have had more than enough of Government guidance about defeating this virus. But now more than ever, we must pull together.”
Currently the lockdown is due to last six weeks in England, with varying lengths for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have also put themselves into lockdown.
The Prime Minister added: “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.
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“But for now, I am afraid, you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
The UK has now recorded more than 1000 daily deaths for the first time since the first peak back in April.
Current patient numbers in hospital top 30,000, and are 39 percent higher than the previous peak on April 12, 2020, when 21,684 people were in hospital with the disease.
Some 1.3 million people have now received either the first dose of their vaccine or both doses of a vaccine since the start of the programme almost a month ago, and the Government has been called upon to speed up the process so lockdown can end sooner.
Could the lockdown be extended?
There has been speculation that current restrictions could last much further than the planned six weeks as the vaccine programme is rolled out.
The rules are due to end on or around February 15, and will be reviewed in due course.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove did not rule out an extension to the restrictions, saying they could be in force until as far in the future as March.
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Speaking this week, he said: “We hope that we will be able to progressively lift restrictions after that but what I can’t do is predict – nobody can predict – with accuracy exactly what we will be able to relax and when.
“What we do know is that the more effective our vaccination programme, the more people who are protected in that way, the easier it will be to lift these restrictions.”
Pressed to reveal a timeframe for easing restrictions, Mr Gove said: “We will keep these constantly under review but you are absolutely right, we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15-22.
“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions.
“I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
And speaking to LBC today, Home Secretary Priti Patel also was unable to rule out an extension.
Asked whether there would be any easing of restrictions before March, she said: “I would love to say, of course we would love to see that and say that, but that’s not for us to speculate.
“We all just need to absolutely whack this virus down, we’ve got to reduce the R factor… it’s a wretched, wretched disease, it really is.
“Right now the focus of the Government and the NHS is to get the jab into people’s arms.”
It is thought that if blanket restrictions do end in the current timeframe, there will be a return to the tier system used more recently.
Current rules means people cannot leave their homes unless for essential reasons, such as buying food, medicine, or seeking medical care.
All schools are now closed and have moved to online learning until at least the middle of February.
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