Coronavirus: Boris Johnson announces severe national lockdown for England

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a severe lockdown for England on the back of skyrocketing COVID-19 cases. 

"The government is once again instructing you to stay at home," Johnson told Brits.

He says people can only leave home for limited reasons, like to shop for essentials, to go to work if you cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance or to escape domestic abuse. 

Schools must move to remote learning, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Not all exams will be able to go ahead as normal this coming summer, the Prime Minister says.

Johnson says authorities have been doing everything they can to keep schools open. However, schools may act as vectors for transmission, causing it to spread between households.

Restrictions are likely to last until the middle or end of February.

The difference between now and back in March - when the UK first went into a national lockdown - is that Britian is now rolling out vaccinations, Johnson says.

He believes the country is entering the "last phase of the struggle" despite the weeks ahead likely to be the hardest yet.

"Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight but we know exactly how we are going to get there." 

The United Kingdom has been struggling with a new, more transmissible variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, leading to 58,784 cases being reported on Monday. The case load detected over the last seven days is up 49.8 percent on the week prior. 

Johnson says the variant is between 50 and 70 percent more transmissible.

"Our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic."

Six cases of the infectious UK variant have been detected in New Zealand managed isolation and quarantine facilities. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as England's NHS National Medical Director, warned that more restrictions are needed to avoid the National Health Service (NHS) being overloaded. 

"Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of COVID patients in hospitals and in intensive care," the five said on Tuesday morning.

"Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant. We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days".

The medical officers say that while the NHS is under increasing pressure, changes have been made to ensure people can receive treatments. 

A lockdown has already been announced for Scotland with stay at home orders and school closures scheduled to last until February. Wales will shut schools until January 18.

The United Kingdom on Monday became the first country in the world to begin using the Oxford University and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. 

"I am so pleased to be getting the COVID vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford," said dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, Pinker, a retired maintenance manager, just a few hundred metres from where the vaccine was developed.

Britain was also the first to rollout the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and is prioritising getting a first dose of vaccines to as many people as possible over giving second doses.