Covid: England’s third national lockdown legally comes into force

London's Regent Street, normally packed with people and traffic, is deserted

England’s third national lockdown has legally come into force, with MPs set to vote retrospectively on it later.

The measures, which include a stay-at-home order and the closure of schools to most pupils, were announced by the prime minister on Monday.

All of the UK is now under strict virus curbs, with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown.

On Tuesday the number of new daily confirmed cases of Covid in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time.

And it is thought one in 50 people in private households in England had the virus last week – rising to one in 30 in London.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics also suggested more than one million people in England had Covid between 27 December and 2 January.

At a Downing Street news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “no choice” but to impose the new lockdown, with the number of patients in hospitals 40% higher than in the first peak.

He would not guarantee that all children would be back in school before the summer holidays but insisted he was full of “optimism and fundamental hope” that things would be different in the spring.

The need to debate and vote on the measures means the House of Commons has been recalled from its Christmas break for the second time – the first being for the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

Mr Johnson will update MPs, most of whom will not physically be in the chamber, on the new rules before the vote, which is due in the evening.

The regulations, which allow the lockdown to be in place until the end of March, are expected to pass with ease – as Labour is set to support the motion.

Under the measures, people in England will only be able to go out for essential reasons, exercise outdoors will be allowed only once a day, and outdoor sports venues must close.

Meanwhile, Covid vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said new daily vaccination figures for the UK – which will be released for the first time on Monday – will show there has been a “significant increase” in the number of people who have received the jab.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said 1.3 million people in the UK had been vaccinated so far.

The government has set the target to immunise all over-70s, the most clinically vulnerable and front-line health and care workers by mid-February – some 13 million people – which would require around two million vaccinations a week.

Mr Zahawi said he was “confident” the government would meet the “ambitious” target, adding that community pharmacies would be brought in to assist the vaccination programme.

“We will make sure that community pharmacies and the independent sector are involved and that we deliver what I think is a credible plan that the NHS has put together to hit that target of 13 million vaccinations … by mid-February,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

On the same programme, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley accused the government of ignoring an “army” of small pharmacies. Thousands of high street chemists were “ready, willing and able” to help, she said.

In other developments, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is to make a Commons statement later about the cancellation of A-Level and GCSE exams in England.