On Monday 4th January, the Prime Minister announced a new national lockdown. This difficult but necessary decision was made in response to the advice of the Government's chief scientific advisors who warned that unless immediate action was taken NHS capacity would face being overwhelmed in the next 3 weeks.
I am aware, as are my colleagues, that this will be extremely difficult for everyone. The decision to enforce another nationwide lockdown was not made sooner because the Government has been doing all within its power to suppress the virus. Were it not for the new variant of Covid, which has been confirmed to be 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible, this lockdown would have been avoided.
However, it is increasingly apparent that the whole country must pull together at this time and bring this new variant under control. Consequently, from today, we must stay at home. You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law. You must work from home unless you absolutely cannot. If you are clinically vulnerable, we advise you to begin shielding again. The full details of what you can and cannot do under this lockdown can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
It is with regret that the Government has made the decision to close primary schools, secondary schools and colleges from today to all students except from those of critical workers and the most vulnerable. This decision was delayed as we know how disruptive the past year has been for those in education, and desired nothing more than to preserve their time in education. However, with the rapid rise in cases and subsequent pressure on the NHS, now there is no alternative . Extra support will be provided to ensure students entitled to free school meals receive them, and more devices will be distributed to support remote education.
This morning, the Chancellor announced £4.6 billion in new lockdown grants to further support businesses and protect jobs during this lockdown. While the vaccine is being rolled out, the tightened restrictions will impact businesses all over the country and this further support is vital to help them get through the months ahead, protecting lives and livelihoods. This one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors means they are able to apply for grants worth up to £9,000 on a per-property basis. A further £594 million is also being made available for Local Authorities and the Devolved Administrations to support other businesses not eligible for these grants.
People all over the country are able to claim financial support, further details of which can be found here:
It is essential that while we make personal sacrifices in order to protect public health through adhering to restrictions, we must take the time to look after our own minds and bodies. Times of uncertainty and isolation from one’s community are particularly hard on our mental health. The NHS has lots of helpful information and advice for looking after our minds during this time, and I urge you to think practically about how you can make every day manageable for yourself. Please reach out to friends, family, and helplines such as Samaritans or Mind. It is important to keep talking to one another at this time.
Undoubtedly, the coming weeks will be difficult to face. However, this lockdown takes place in a different environment to the lockdown we experienced in March 2020. Now we have the hope of the vaccine, meaning the end of this turbulent and distressing time is in sight. All being well, by the middle of February we expect to have had everyone in the top four priority groups vaccinated. This is of course contingent on our understanding of the virus remaining the same, and the rollout of the vaccination continuing successfully, so we must exercise some caution with respect to the timetable. However, our current trajectory means that by March we will have protected large groups of people from the virus, and will be able to start lifting many of the restrictions that we have endured for so long.