For the first time since Covid-19 spread across the United Kingdom in early 2020, the daily death toll crossed 1,000 on Wednesday and new cases reached another high as England began its third six-week lockdown with Prime Minister Boris Johnson pinning hopes on mass vaccination.
Official figures showed 1,041 people died in the last 24 hours and 62,322 new cases were recorded, with 30,451 patients in hospital, 2,645 of them on ventilators. Hospitals across the UK have been struggling to cope with new admissions.
Johnson told a specially convened session of the House of Commons to pass legislation related to the new lockdown that the government had no choice but to clamp another lockdown due to the ever-rising numbers. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have restrictions similar to the lockdown in England.
He said: “(Alas), this mutation, spreading with frightening ease and speed in spite of the sterling work of the British public – has led to more cases than we have ever seen before, alas numbers that cannot be explained away by the meteoric rise in testing.
“When the Office for National Statistics reports that more than 2% of the population is now infected, and when the number of patients in hospitals in England is now 40% higher than the first peak in April, it is inescapable that the facts are changing and we must change our response.”
New centres have been established across the country for mass vaccination. Johnson saw the current phase as a “tough final stretch” that will hopefully end in the coming months when mass vaccination will prevent spread of the virus and its variant.
Johnson said: “We are in a tough final stretch, made only tougher by the new variant – but this country will come together and the miracle of scientific endeavour, much of it right here in the UK, has given us not only the sight of the finish line but a clear route to get there.
“After the marathon of last year we are indeed now in a sprint, a race to vaccinate the vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them. Every needle in every arm makes a difference”.