England to enter toughest Covid lockdown since March

England to enter toughest Covid lockdown since March

17:07 - Boris Johnson says restrictions will last at least six weeks with schools closed until February half-term

England will enter its toughest nationwide lockdown since March, with schools closed and people allowed to leave home once a day for exercise for at least six weeks, Boris Johnson has announced as the numbers of people in hospital reach new highs.

All pupils will switch to remote learning until the February half-term, the prime minister said in an address to the nation, and GCSE and A-level exams are unlikely to go ahead as planned. All non-essential shops will be told to close.

Under the third national lockdown, people in England will be ordered to stay at home until at least 15 February and advised only to leave once a day for exercise. MPs are expected to vote the tough new measures into law from Wednesday, though businesses will be advised to close from Monday night.

Across the country, people must now only leave home for work – and only if it is impossible to work from home – and for essential food and medicine. Exercise with one other person from a different household is permitted but the advice is to stay local and limit activity to once a day.

Other reasons to leave home will be limited to seeking medical care, fleeing the threat of harm or providing essential care.

All primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will be closed apart from for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Exams are now unlikely to go ahead as planned for pupils in England, subject to a final decision with Ofqual. Nurseries, alternative provision and special schools will remain open and existing rules for childcare support bubbles will apply.

Students will not be able to return to university and will be expected to study online from their current residence until mid-February. In-person teaching can take place for a limited number of critical courses, such as medicine.

All non-essential retail and hospitality must remain closed or close if they are not already. Restaurants and other premises can continue delivery or takeaway but alcohol will no longer be permitted for takeaway or click and collect amid concerns about people congregating around pubs and bars with takeaway drinks.

Places of worship can remain open including offering communal worship – subject to social distancing – as can playgrounds but outdoor sports venues, tennis courts and golf courses must close. Outdoor team sports will not be permitted, but professional sports, including the Premier League, may continue.

Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be advised to shield as far as possible and should not go to work even if they cannot work from home, the government will advise.

The lockdown is set to come into effect in law as soon as possible, with regulations laid on Tuesday and voted on by MPs on Wednesday. However, Johnson said new rules should be followed from this evening, and businesses and the public should not wait for regulations to be passed.

The prime minister was advised on Monday that cases were rising rapidly in every part of the country, with the chief medical officers recommending that the UK move to the highest coronavirus alert level – five – for the first time.

On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, up 30% on a week earlier. The peak of admissions in the first wave was 18,374 on 12 April; the country is now 40% above that level. Across the UK, there were 80,664 positive tests on 29 December, with the case rate three times higher than at the start of December.