Last night I announced England will go into a national lockdown starting tomorrow. Meaning the government is once again instructing you to stay at home.
Whilst there is no doubt our collective efforts had been working in fighting the old variant of the virus, this new variant is confirmed to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible.
In just the last week we have seen deaths sadly up by 20% and the number of Covid patients in English hospitals alone increase by nearly a third, to almost 27,000.
And yesterday the UK’s Chief Medical Officers advised that the country should move to alert level 5, meaning that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.
With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.
There is of course one huge difference compared to last year. We are now rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history.
So far, we in the UK have vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined.
And with the arrival this week of the UK’s own Oxford University / AstraZeneca vaccine, the pace of vaccination is accelerating.
Meaning that by the middle of February, if things go well, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups.
And of course, if everyone plays their part by following the rules, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.
The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet, but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle.
Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.
But for now, I am afraid, you must once again:
Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.