All schools to close as national lockdown announced by Prime Minister
- Credit: PA
Schools are set to close after Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown with Covid-19 cases soaring.
The harsher measures mean that the whole of the UK will now face further restrictions to their daily lives in a bid to control the spread of the virus.
The Prime Minister made the announcement during a televised address to the nation this evening, describing the country's situation as "frustrating and alarming".
He said the new measures are needed due to the "rapidly escalating" number of Covid-19 cases which are being recorded across the country - mostly driven by the new variant of the virus.
In Suffolk, in the seven days up to December 31, the county saw cases increase by 40%, with more than 1,200 more positive tests than the week before.
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Ipswich alone saw case numbers increase by 75% during the same period.
The new measures mean that all schools will close and instead offer remote learning, but could potentially re-open after February half term.
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Mr Johnson also announced that all summer exams will be cancelled in 2021 with talks with exam boards set to decide how grades will be achieved.
Former Suffolk headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said: "This new lockdown will be disruptive to learners who have already been hugely disrupted.
"Schools and colleges are very worried about how exams can be made fair in these circumstances.
"We are keen to work with the Government and exam regulator Ofqual to make this process as fair as it can possibly be."
Earlier today, around 20 schools in Suffolk pre-empted the new lockdown, electing to remain closed, against government guidance.
They will now be forced to close their doors and migrate their teaching online.
County Labour Spokesperson for Children's Services, Education and Skills, Jack Abbott added: "As we have been calling for months, the Government must now finally provide laptops and IT equipment to all pupils who need them.
"They must also urgently vaccinate all teachers and support staff."
It was also confirmed during the announcement that outdoor exercise will still be allowed as will shopping for essential goods and people will be encouraged to leave their homes if they are suffering domestic abuse.
People have also been told they must work from home where possible.
All measures will be introduced immediately, and police will have enforcement powers.
It is expected to last until the middle of February.
The news comes on the day that the first vaccine developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca was given in England.
The Prime Minister said that "with a fair wind in our sails" the government hopes to have vaccinated all of the people in the four top priority groups by mid-February.
He said: "That means vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
"If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus."
Before the vaccinations can be completed, however, Mr Johnson said the country must "pull together" and follow lockdown rules for what is hoped to be the last time.
The move has come after the UK's four chief medical officers released a statement asking for the UK Alert Level to move from Level 4 to Level 5 - meaning a lockdown is advised.
The statement said: "Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant.
"We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days."
The latest data show a 41% rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospitals in England between Christmas Day and January 3, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.
While ministers hailed the rollout of the new Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Mr Johnson warned the nation needed to prepare for some "tough" weeks ahead as the jab was extended to the most vulnerable.