UK lawmakers have returned to Parliament to debate a national lockdown that took effect Wednesday morning amid anger over the chaos in the government’s strategy for schools
LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that his government would use “every available second” to shield the elderly and the vulnerable from the virus rampaging across Britain as he told Parliament on Wednesday why the country needed to return to a COVID-19 lockdown.
Lawmakers, who were recalled from their Christmas recess early to discuss the measures, are expected to approve the new rules because there is a wide consensus on the need for tougher restrictions to control soaring new infections.
When he announced the stay-at-home order on Monday, Johnson said it wouldn’t lifted before mid-February. By that time, the government hopes to have given one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to about 13 million people who are most at risk, potentially allowing some relaxation of the restrictions.
“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, and every needle in every arm makes a difference,” Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The session came amid anger over the chaos in the government’s education strategy during the pandemic.
As part of the latest lockdown, Johnson ordered schools across England to close, backtracking on the government’s pledge to keep them open. Some lawmakers are seeking assurances that schools will reopen in mid-February.
“It’s been a huge shambles,” Robert Halfon, chairman of the House of Commons’ education committee, told the BBC. “This has got to stop. The government has got to offer consistency, a consistent policy that doesn’t change every couple of days.”
The government is ramping up its mass vaccination program after regulators authorized a second vaccine. The U.K. is using both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and one made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Both require two shots, but British authorities have made a decision to delay the second shot — shifting it from 21 days after the first to up to 12 weeks later — in order to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. That decision is being hotly debated by governments and scientists around the world.
As of Monday, the NHS had vaccinated 1.3 million people across the U.K. The government plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating across the country by the end of this week, Johnson said.
This story corrects that the Office for National Statistics figure of coronavirus infections was for England, not the whole U.K.
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