Scotland will return to lockdown restrictions in response to a highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 and rocketing daily case numbers there.
Announcing the measures today, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Covid-19 situation is more concerning than any time since last March.
Ms Sturgeon said the new variant accounts for nearly half of new cases in Scotland, and is 70 per cent more transmissible, as she announced a legal requirement for Scots to stay at home from midnight.
“As a result of this new variant, [the virus] has just learned to run much faster, and has most definitely picked up pace in the past couple of weeks,” she told the Scottish parliament.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation that we face now than I have been at any time since March.”
This comes as British prime minister Boris Johnson said he would impose tougher restrictions on England shortly to contain a rapidly escalating outbreak of the virus, indicating secondary schools may not reopen this month.
There’s no question that we’re going to have to take tougher measures.
Visiting a hospital to see the first people receive the vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, Mr Johnson said the country faced “tough, tough” weeks to come.
“If you look at the numbers, there’s no question that we’re going to have to take tougher measures and we’ll be announcing those in due course,” Johnson said. “We’ve got the virus really surging.”
England is currently divided into four tiers of restrictions, depending on the prevalence of the virus, with the vast majority of the country in Tiers 3 and 4 where social mixing is restricted and restaurants and pubs are closed.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said earlier the rules in Tier 3 were clearly not working.
With England moving back towards the strict lockdown of the first wave in March, Mr Johnson was also asked if schools would have to close once again and return to online learning.
He said that would remain a last resort for primary schools given the social and educational damage that can be done to isolated children.
But he indicated they may need to rethink a plan to reopen secondary schools for pupils aged between 11 and 18.
“It looks as though secondary schools probably play more of a role in the spread of the epidemic than primary schools, so we’ll have to look very hard at what we do with secondary schools later in the month,” he said.
The first national lockdown in the UK last May prompted a 25 per cent drop in economic output.
While the economy recovered partially in the third quarter, renewed lockdown measures threaten to cause a double-dip recession at the start of 2021.