England will be the latest European country to move into a second national lockdown, joining France and Germany in taking stricter measures against the Covid-19 pandemic as infections on the continent continue to rise.
Markets are likely to react strongly to another large economy heading into a month-long lockdown.
Stock markets ended the week Friday with their worst performance since March over fears over the virus, with the pan-European benchmark Stoxx 600
hitting its lowest level since May as France and Germany announced strict new measures.
Britain’s prime minister called an urgent press conference Saturday evening to announce the lockdown after meeting with his cabinet earlier in the day.
Starting Thursday until December 2, only essential businesses, as well as schools and universities, will remain open, with nonessential shops and hospitality businesses, such as bars and restaurants, to be closed.
The government’s decision comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge in the UK, with the country passing the 1 million case mark Saturday as it recorded 21,915 new cases and 326 deaths.
Boris Johnson said that people won’t be allowed to leave their homes except for specific reasons, including caring for family members, sanctioned exercise, and making essential shopping trips, such as buying food and medical supplies.
Different households won’t be allowed to mix either indoors or outdoors.
These are the most severe restrictions imposed in England due to the coronavirus since the stay-at-home order in March that brought about a sweeping lockdown in the spring.
Plus: Fear grips Europe over threat of widespread lockdowns, as Macron prepares to address France
In a boost to businesses and workers, the furlough scheme that was set to end Saturday will be extended to December. Under the furlough scheme, the government providses wage subsidies to businesses to support workers that would otherwise have been laid off due to the virus.
“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature,” Johnson said. “In this country, alas as across much of Europe, the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable, worst-case scenario.”
“Christmas is going to be different this year,” Johnson said. “But it is my sincere hope and belief that by taking action now we can allow families across the country to be together.”
Johnson also announced a “massive” expansion in the testing regime, with a focus on coronavirus tests with a rapid turnaround. The prime minister said that the army has been mobilized to run the logistics of the new testing program, which will begin in days.
“We know from trials across the country, in schools and hospitals, that we can use these tests, not just to locate infections in people, but to drive down the disease,” Johnson said.
Coronavirus cases have continued to increase in the UK even as the government instituted new measures to curb the spread in recent weeks. The death rate is now the highest it has been since May, with 46,555 lives lost to Covid-19 in the UK since the beginning of the pandemic.
Also: Why European governments are seeing more local lockdown rebellions during the autumn COVID spike
The latest change to national coronavirus measures came on October 14, when England was split into three “tiers” with increasingly strict restrictions on businesses and socializing.
The new lockdown will apply only to England, while the devolved countries in the UK—Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—have set their own measures.
Wales’ 17-day “firebreak” lockdown, in which people are generally required to stay at home, will end on November 9 as planned, despite the restrictions in England, the Welsh government said.
Scotland’s own five-tier system of restrictions will go into force on Monday, and Northern Ireland is in the midst of a four-week shutdown in which schools, bars, and restaurants are closed.
England is just the latest European country to announce severe new restrictions as coronavirus cases surge across the continent.
France, Germany, and Belgium announced their own forms of new national lockdowns in the past week, while there remains a nightly national curfew in Spain and Italy closed bars, restaurants, gyms, and cinemas last Monday.