LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to outline tougher restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 on Monday, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Johnson, who has said tougher measures are imminent, announced that he would address the nation at 8 p.m. (3 p.m. EST). The U.K. Parliament will be recalled from its holiday recess to sit on Wednesday.
The U.K. has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks as public health officials struggle to control the spread of a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than previous variants. Authorities have recorded more than 50,000 new infections a day since passing that milestone for the first time on Dec. 29. On Monday, they reported 407 virus-related deaths to push the confirmed death toll total to 75,431, one of the worst in Europe.
“If you look at the numbers, there’s no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course,” Johnson said while visiting some of the people receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Chase Farm Hospital in north London.
The U.K.’s chief medical officers warned that without further action, “there is a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon also imposed a lockdown in her nation until the end of January.
Beginning Tuesday, people in Scotland will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons, to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units, Sturgeon said. Under the new rules, people can go out for exercise but can only meet one person from another household. Schools will remain closed until February, except for children of key workers and those in social care.
“I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year,” Sturgeon said in Edinburgh.
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Scotland, which controls its own health policy under the U.K.’s system of devolved government, has often imposed stricter coronavirus restrictions than those in England.
The announcements come on the day U.K. health authorities began putting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine into arms around the country, fueling hopes that life may begin returning to normal by the spring.