England and Scotland have re-entered national lockdowns effective Tuesday in response to a surge in coronavirus cases even as vaccines are being deployed throughout the United Kingdom.
The fresh restrictions come as the U.K. grapples with a new faster-spreading variant of the virus that has ripped through the nation of late resulting in seven straight days of 50,000 or more reported positive cases.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement Monday, ordering citizens stay at home unless traveling for essential purposes such as performing certain types of work, purchasing food or supplies, or exercising.
"I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this change will cause millions of people and parents up and down the country," Johnson said in a national address, according to CNBC, adding that schools will also be closed for in-person learning.
"The problem isn't that schools are unsafe for children ... the problem is that schools may act as vectors of transmission, causing the virus to spread between households," he said.
"The number of deaths is up by 20% over the last week and will sadly rise further," he added. "With most of the country already under extreme measures, it's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out."
Health experts believe the mutated variant is up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus strain.
Earlier Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced that Scotland would re-enter a full lockdown.
Sturgeon informed the Scottish Parliament on Monday that schools will remain closed and that members of the public will be legally required to remain at home except for certain essential reasons, the Associated Press reported.
The aggressive move, which is slated to last at least until the end of the month, marks the second time since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 that Scotland has been essentially shut down.
"I can confirm now in summary that we have decided to introduce from midnight tonight for the duration of January a legal requirement to stay at home except for essential purposes," Sturgeon told Parliament. "This is similar to the lockdown of March last year."
"I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year," she added.
In his address, Johnson noted, "There's one huge difference compared to last year. We're now rolling out the biggest vaccination program in our history."
The U.K. plans to vaccinate tens of millions of people in a matter of months, starting with frontline workers and the elderly before moving on to the rest of the public.
"If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups ... that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long," Johnson promised.