Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a second national lockdown for England to prevent a “medical and moral disaster” for the NHS.
He said Christmas may be “very different” but he hoped taking action now would mean families can gather.
Pubs, restaurants, gyms and non-essential shops will have to close for four weeks from Thursday, he said.
But unlike the restrictions in spring, schools, colleges and universities can stay open.
After 2 December, the restrictions would be eased and regions would go back to the tiered system, he said.
Mr Johnson said: “Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different, but it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now we can allow families across the country to be together.”
The prime minister told a Downing Street news conference that he was “truly, truly sorry” for the impact on businesses, but said the furlough system paying 80% of employee wages will be extended through November.
“No responsible prime minister” could ignore figures which suggested deaths would reach “several thousand a day”, with a “peak of mortality” worse than the country saw in April, Mr Johnson said.
He said hospitals even in the south-west of England, where cases are among the lowest, will run out of capacity in weeks.
“Doctors and nurses would be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would get oxygen and who wouldn’t, who would live and who would die,” Mr Johnson said.
Under the new restrictions:
- People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home and education
- And people are also allowed to leave home for exercise medical reasons, food and other essential shopping and providing care for vulnerable people or for volunteering
- Meeting indoors or in private gardens will not be allowed
- But individuals can meet meet one other person from another household outside in a public place
- Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation will close but takeaways and click-and-collect shopping can remain open
- Leisure and entertainment venues, including gyms, will also close
- Construction sites and manufacturing workplaces can remain open
- People are still allowed to form support bubbles
- Children can move between homes if their parents are separated
- Clinically vulnerable people are asked to be “especially careful” but people are not being asked to resume shielding
PM launches the nuclear option he swore to avoid
The UK is not the only country that has seen the progress of the disease go the wrong way, with France and Germany acting in recent days.
But it is also true that Boris Johnson cannot say for a second that he was not warned.
More than six weeks ago, not just the opposition, but some of Mr Johnson’s own ministers, and some of his own advisers were pushing for another limited lockdown to try to slow the spread of the disease.
Conversations were active in government by the third week in September about the possibility of taking national action as the second wave was developing, potentially in a more serious way than the scale of the pandemic in the spring.
Mr Johnson, who chaired a cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon, or Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make a statement to Parliament on Monday.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government had “finally taken the decision it should have taken weeks ago” and indicated the party would support the lockdown in a Commons vote.
Because of the delay, “the lockdown will be longer, it’ll be harder and there’s a human cost which will be very, very real,” he said.
Mr Johnson had previously resisted pressure to introduce nationwide restrictions, saying they would be “disastrous” for the UK’s finances and opting instead for a three-tiered system targeting local areas in England.
The UK recorded another 21,915 confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 1,011,660.
Another 326 people were reported to have died within 28 days of a positive test.
The UK is the ninth country to reach the milestone of a million confirmed cases – after the US, India, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Argentina and Colombia.