PM unveils tougher national restrictions as NHS “weeks from being overwhelmed”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new national COVID-19 restrictions in England from Thursday 5 November, meaning that everyone must stay at home with a limited set of exemptions.
The new measures include: the forced closure of non-essential shops; no international travel, except for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions; and clinically vulnerable people are advised to minimise contact with others, but shielding is not being reintroduced.
MPs are set to vote on the measures on Wednesday and a full set of exemptions will be set out in law, the UK Government has confirmed.
According to the government, the NHS is just “weeks from being overwhelmed” and with a higher death toll than the first wave predicted without new restrictions, the Prime Minister, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Advisor, and Cabinet agreed there was no alternative to tougher national measures.
The natural rate of R is around 3, meaning local restrictions have helped slow the spread of the virus. However, the R rate is still above 1, meaning infections, hospitalisations and deaths continue to double and the virus is now a national problem, which has prompted the introduction of tough measures in England.
According to the government, on present trends, in the South West, where incidence is low, it is clear they would run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks unless the government acted.
Whilst work is underway to boost capacity, including preparing the Nightingales, the government has said it is impossible to create extra bed space, and recruit extra doctors and nurses, at the rate necessary to outpace the virus.
Based on these predictions and to help curb the spread of COVID-19, from Thursday 5 November, everyone must stay at home and may leave only for a limited set of reasons.
These include for education; for work, if working from home is not a viable option; for exercise and recreation outdoors, with members from the same household or support bubble, or with one person from another household; for all medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; to shop for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.
Importantly, ministers have said that it is vital to keep the provision for non-Covid healthcare needs going. Unless clinicians tell patients otherwise, they should continue to use the NHS, get scans and other tests, turn up for all appointments and collect medicines and treatments.
Additionally, the new measures mean that single-adult households will still be able to form an exclusive support bubble with one other household and children can move between homes if their parents are separated.
Non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues will be closed. Click and collect services can continue and essential shops, including supermarkets, will remain open under the new rules.
Pubs, bars, restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery services.
Furthermore, the government is advising that people should work from home wherever possible. The government says that workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home, though, for example, in the construction or manufacturing sectors.
Shielding as practised in the spring will not currently be reintroduced. However, clinically vulnerable people and those aged over 60 have been advised to be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise contact with others.
The government adds: “Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should not only minimise their contacts with others, but also not go to work if they are unable to work from home.”
Under the new lockdown restrictions, there is no exemption for staying away from home on holiday. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions. Overnight stays away from primary residences will not be allowed, except for specific exceptions including for work.
Furthermore, inbound international travel will continue to be governed by the travel corridor approach and those currently on a domestic holiday will be allowed to finish their holidays, but are still subject to the requirements in England not to go out without a reasonable excuse.
Public services, such as job centres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.
There is no exemption for communal worship in places of worship (except funerals and individual prayer), organised team sports, or children’s activities. Elite sport will be allowed to continue behind closed doors as currently, the government confirms.
To help protect the employment market, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, known as the furlough scheme, will remain open until December, with employees receiving 80 percent of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500. The cost for employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the current scheme, which ended on 31 October.