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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions are likely to be imposed on England as the country reels for a new coronavirus a variant that has brought infection rates to their highest levels on record.

Johnson, however, insisted that he “has no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back to the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple more weeks because of the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70 percent more contagious.

the UK is in the midst of an acute outbreak, registering more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day for the past five days. On Saturday, it recorded a daily record of 57,725 new cases. The country, with nearly 75,000 virus-related deaths, alternates with Italy as the worst-hit European nation, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 19: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference in response to the current situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street on December 19, 2020 in London, England. Prime Minister announces level four restrictions for London and the South East. (Photo by Toby Melville – WPA Pool / Getty Images) (Getty)

“We are fully reconciled to do whatever it takes to control the virus, which may mean tougher measures in the coming weeks,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC. “Obviously, there are a number of stricter measures that we should consider.”

Johnson admitted that school closings, curfews and a total ban on home mixing could be on the agenda for the most stressed areas.

London and south-east England face extremely high levels of new infections and there is speculation that restrictions will have to be tightened to control the virus. In some parts of the British capital and its surroundings, there are around 1000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The Johnson administration is using a tiered coronavirus restriction system. Most of England is already at Tier 4 highest, involving the closure of non-essential shops and places like gyms and recreation centers, as well as a stay-at-home instruction.

“What we are using now is the tiered system, which is a very difficult system and sadly, it is probably about to get more difficult to keep things under control,” he said. “We will review it and we have the potential for tens of millions of vaccines to come down the road, offering people literally life and hope.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a vial of the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a vial of the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222. (Getty)

The UK has moved quickly on the vaccination front. It was the first to begin vaccinating people over 80 and healthcare workers on December 8 with the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Last week, regulators approved another vaccine made by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca that is cheaper and easier to use than the Pfizer vaccine.

Hundreds of new vaccination sites should be up and running this week as the National Health Service intensifies its vaccination program with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Authorities say about 530,000 doses of the new vaccine will be given Monday as the country moves toward its goal of vaccinating 2 million people a week as soon as possible.

“We hope we can make tens of millions over the next three months,” Johnson said.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca injection will be administered in a small number of hospitals during the first few days so that authorities can be alert to any adverse reactions. Hundreds of new vaccination sites, both in hospitals and in local doctor’s offices, will launch this week, joining the more than 700 that are already in operation, NHS England said.

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London. (AP)
A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London. (AP)

In a change from practices in the US and elsewhere, Britain plans to give people a second dose of both vaccines within 12 weeks of the first injection rather than within 21 days, to speed up immunizations in as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

“My mother, like you or your elderly loved ones, may be affected by this decision, but it is still the right thing to do for the entire nation,” said the government’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam. he said in an article for the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

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