Boris Johnson vowed it would not be necessary, but has been forced into another screeching U-turn – and to bring forward the announcement after much of it leaked. So what are the details of the new lockdown?
When will it start and when will it end?
It will begin at 00.01 on Thursday 5 November and finish at 00.01 on Wednesday 2 December – which is very different to the first open-ended lockdown. The delay before it kicks in is to allow MPs to vote to approve it on Wednesday, which they are expected to do with a small Tory revolt.
Is it the same as the first lockdown?
No, but it will be very familiar. Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will close, along with entertainment and leisure venues – including gyms – as well as hairdressers and beauty salons, and the axe will fall on all amateur sport. As before, takeaways and food deliveries will be allowed, as will click-and-collect services. Mixing with other households inside homes will be outlawed and travel allowed for specific purposes only, for work, education, healthcare, to shop for essentials and to care for vulnerable people.
What are the differences?
The big one is that schools, colleges and universities will remain open. Also, people will be allowed to meet with one person from another household and sit with them in a park (winter weather permitting, with social distancing – but not in private gardens) and elite sport will continue – so the Premier League will not be suspended.
What about the rest of the UK?
The other big difference – this time, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already have their own tougher rules, and there is no expectation that the lockdowns will be brought into line. Downing Street, however, believes the differences are often exaggerated.
What will happen on 2 December?
The intention is to return to what No 10 calls the “local and regional approach” of three different tiers of varying restrictions, according to the Covid-19 threat in each area. But exactly how tough the measures will be will depend on how successful the second lockdown – or “tougher national measures”, as No 10 prefers to call it – proves to be.
What about financial help for people whose jobs disappear for the next four weeks?
The furlough scheme – with 80 per cent of wages paid by the government – will continue through November, having been due to end on 31 October. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, was desperate to rein back the massive spending on the scheme – but now the Treasury has to dig deep once again.
Is shielding coming back for the most vulnerable people?
No. They, along with over-70s, have been told to be “especially careful to follow the rules and to minimise their contacts” – but not to hide away completely, as in March. Support bubbles will continue and children will be able to move between homes if their parents are separated.
Why is the prime minister acting now?
Some truly scary figures about the growth of the virus, which were presented to Cabinet ministers at their emergency meeting. The infection rate has leapt to one in every 100 people – with more than half a million people carrying the virus at any one time – a doubling from one in 200 since the start of October. In July, it was one in 2,300. Worse, the NHS is on course to run out of beds in December, even if elective treatments are cancelled.
Why not just impose the new lockdown in the worst-affected areas?
Downing Street is stressing that the virus is surging everywhere, with infection rates doubling faster in the southeast than in the northwest – and doubling fastest in the east and west midlands. Without action, the southwest – which is least affected currently – will be plunged into the same plight as the northwest by 27 November.
What about Christmas get-togethers?
By acting now, the government hopes to “save Christmas” – but no promises are being made. It hopes families will be able to gather for a festive dinner, but one source said “we have to be realistic and we are still facing challenges”.
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