Though Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that schools across the UK are safe to reopen, he said he’s “reconciled” to the fact that he’ll have to implement a “tougher” lockdown in many parts of the country.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Johnson assured parents that they can send their children back to school after the Christmas holidays. His remarks differed from those of his advisers, and triggered a massive blowback from opposition parties and unions, who accused him of putting lives at risk.
Though Johnson insisted that schools are safe, he also warned listeners that harsher restrictions on daily life may be on the cards within the coming weeks.
“It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country, I’m fully, fully reconciled with that,” Johnson said. “I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that,” he added.
Much of England has already been placed under Tier-4 restrictions, which forbid leaving one’s home or garden without a “reasonable excuse.” Though three-quarters of the population are now under these restrictions, Johnson’s government has shied away from calling their imposition a “lockdown.”
Sunday’s interview was not the first sign of tougher restrictions to come, however. On Thursday, Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Radio that more of the country may need to be in Tier 4, or a total national lockdown.
“Cases are rising in a really concerning way, so I suspect that unfortunately we will see a ramping-up even further of restrictions, probably more of the country being in Tier 4 or ultimately probably a national lockdown before we get to the end of January,” he said.
Johnson did not elaborate on what his toughening-up of restrictions might look like. Pressed by BBC host Andrew Marr, he said “there are obviously a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider,” but added “I’m not going to speculate now about what they would be.”
At present, a new and more infectious strain of the coronavirus has seen Covid-19 cases skyrocket. The UK on Saturday reported 57,725 new cases of the deadly illness, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began. Some 445 deaths were also recorded. Simultaneously, mass vaccination is underway in the UK, with Johnson saying on Sunday that a “million or so” doses have already been administered.