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England's latest lockdown could last into March: Minister

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also bring in strict lockdowns, including school closures

LONDON : England yesterday entered a strict national lockdown aimed at stemming a steep rise in virus cases that a senior government minister warned could last into March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday evening announced the measures, including school closures and a ban on leaving home except for exercise and essential shopping.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News yesterday morning that he could not say precisely when the lockdown, announced as lasting six weeks, would be lifted, warning of "very, very difficult weeks".

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The measures will be reviewed from Feb 15, he said, but the government cannot "predict with certainty" whether they will be lifted then, said Mr Gove.

"I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all," he added.

The measures began in England yesterday and will become law today.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also bringing in strict lockdowns, including school closures.

The lockdown comes as the surge of a new strain of the virus that is said to be more infectious threatens to overwhelm hospitals, despite the roll-out of two vaccines, including Britain's own Oxford University/AstraZeneca shot from Monday, bringing hopes of beating the virus in the coming months.

More than a million have already been vaccinated.

The government aims to vaccinate all elderly care home residents and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all front-line health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically vulnerable, by next month.

A Savanta-ComRes poll suggested four in five adults in England supported the lockdown, despite criticism of the government's handling of the outbreak response.

"I definitely think it was the right decision to make. The NHS hospitals are really full so we're in a similar position as we were in lockdown number one," said Londoner Kaitlin Colucci, 28.

"I just hope that everyone doesn't struggle too much with having to be indoors again."

A total of 58,784 people tested positive in Britain on Monday, with cases in the last seven days up 50 per cent on the previous week. - AFP, REUTERS

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