Last Updated: Jan. 11, 2021 at 1:57 p.m. ET
First Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 8:22 a.m. ET
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be looking at a further tightening of the current lockdown, and more police enforcement of the rules
A protester is arrested by police on Clapham Common, London, during an anti-lockdown demonstration on Jan. 9, 2021.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof. Chris Whitty, said on Monday that the country was facing a major health emergency unless people strictly abide by the lockdown rules set by the government, with the National Health Service threatening to be overwhelmed by the number of COVID patients.
More than 81,000 people have died from the coronavirus disease in the U.K., the world’s fifth-highest toll. That is twice as much as more populous Germany.
The government on Monday opened seven mass vaccination centers, with up to 50 such facilities planned, as it tries to reach 15 million of the country’s most vulnerable by mid February.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be considering a further tightening of the current lockdown, and stricter police enforcement of the rules. Possible further steps include the closure of nurseries, the mandatory use of masks outdoors on the model of France or Spain, and possible curfews.
“We are at the worst point of the pandemic in the U.K.,” Whitty said, during a round of media appearances on Monday. “There is a high chance if you meet someone unnecessarily they will have COVID,” he also said.
Read: Travel restrictions tighten further in Europe as COVID-19 is spreading faster
The outlook: The race between the vaccination campaign and the new variant of the virus is intensifying. The current lockdown is formally due to end on Feb. 15, but there is little chance restrictions will be totally lifted then. For now, the government and health authorities are insisting on the need for compliance on the part of the public, without further restrictions. But if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, as Whitty seems to expect, there will be little choice left. Read: Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine appears to protect against U.K. and South African COVID-19 strains in lab, study finds