Last reviewed 5 January 2021

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 4 January that the UK’s Covid-19 alert level will move from level 4 to 5 "meaning that if action is not taken, NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days".

In response, he said the UK will be moved into a new national lockdown from 6 January. The announcement follows advice from the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) and NHS England Medical Director that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 5, as cases are rising almost everywhere in much of the country, driven by the new more transmissible variant of Covid-19.

In England there has been a 50% rise in the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 since Christmas Day. The CMOs have cast doubt over whether the NHS would be able to cope with a further sustained rise in cases and said that, without further action, there would be a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be contacted by letter and should now shield once more. Visits to care homes can take place with arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows but close-contact indoor visits are not allowed. No visits will be permitted in the event of an outbreak.

People will not be allowed to leave their homes except for certain reasons including essential medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work for those who cannot do so from home.

All schools and colleges will close to most pupils from Tuesday, with remote learning in place until February half term, with end-of-year exams cancelled for this summer.

Boris Johnson suggested that England could "steadily" move out of lockdown from mid-February. He said "if things go well" the Government expects to have offered a first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups. This includes vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70 and all frontline health and social care workers.

Wales has been under "stay-at-home" lockdown restrictions since 20 December. All schools and colleges in Wales will now move to online learning until 18 January. People in Scotland will also be legally required to stay at home, except for essential purposes, from midnight 4 January.

The Government document, National Lockdown: Stay at Home, outlines the new rules in England and is available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home.

Current Guidance on Shielding and Protecting People who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable from Covid-19 is at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19.