London, Jan 4 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom once again is imposing stringent movement restrictions – as it did last March – due to the alarming spread of the new and highly contagious variant of the coronvirus, which is threatening to cause the British hospital system to collapse, news that broke on the same day that the first vaccinations using the Oxford/AstraZeneca anti-Covid vaccine were administered.
In a televised message directed at the nation, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remarked that the new strain – which is between 50 percent and 70 percent more transmissible than the original version of the virus – is spreading at an “alarming” rate, adding that hospitals are under greater pressure from increasing Covid cases than at any time since the start of the pandemic early this year.
“I want to say to everyone right across the UK that I know how tough this is, and I know how frustrated you are, and I know that you’ve had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus,” Johnson said. “But now, more than ever, we must pull together.”
Among the new directives set forth on Monday as part of the third nationwide lockdown, Johnson instructed the public to remain at home and only to venture out for limited reasons.
Included among those reasons are to buy essential items, to seek medical attention, including to request a Covid-19 test, to work if it is absolutely necessary, to exercise or to escape from situations of domestic abuse.
Regarding institutions of higher learning, those centers will provide remote classes starting Tuesday morning until mid-February although children’s day care centers will continue to operate for the children of essential workers.
Despite the new rules, Johnson emphasized that there is a significant difference between this new confinement period and the earlier one since what he called the largest vaccination campaign in UK history is now under way.
Brian Pinker, 82, was the first person to be vaccinated with the med developed by Oxford University and the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical firm, after the vaccine received the green light for public use from regulators on Dec. 30.
This vaccine immunization program comes in addition to the one started on Dec. 8 using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Authorities say that half a million doses will be given over this week to people deemed to be among the most vulnerable groups.
Although Johnson had long resisted imposing another national lockdown – insisting on Sunday that schools were safe to reopen – he was brought to the decision because there has recently been an explosion in the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK with 58,784 cases being confirmed on Monday alone, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
Health authorities say that the country’s alert level should be raised from 4 to 5, adding that Britain’s hospital system could find itself overwhelmed within the next “21 days” unless stricter measures are put in place immediately.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to store since it can be kept in a regular freezer, just like the yearly vaccine for the common flu, while the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be stored at a temperature of minus 70 C (minus 94 F).