Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new measures tonight, saying they were needed to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus and bring the new more transmissible Covid-19 variant under control.
He asked people to follow the new rules immediately, with primary schools, secondary schools and colleges told to close from tomorrow and MPs set to vote on Wednesday morning to make them law.
Mr Johnson did not reveal when the restrictions are expected to ease but he did say that ‘if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails’ the NHS expects to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by mid-February.
That means that all care home residents and their carers, everyone over 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable would have had their first jab.
He pointed out that there is a time lag of two to three weeks between getting the jab and gaining immunity, which suggests that the restrictions are unlikely to be significantly eased until at least March.
But he did say that he hoped children would be able to return to school after the February half-term as the rules are steadily eased.
He also said that the tier system is likely to be reintroduced whenever the national lockdown ends.
Addressing the nation, Mr Johnson said: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those (four most vulnerable) groups we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus and of course that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.
"I must emphasise that even if we achieve this goal, there remains a time lag of two to three weeks from getting a jab to receiving immunity and there will be a further time lag before the pressure on the NHS is lifted, so we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead.
"But if our understanding of the virus doesn’t change dramatically once again, if the roll out of the vaccine programme continues to be successful, if deaths started to fall as the vaccine takes effect, and, critically, if everyone plays their part by following the rules then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half-term and starting cautiously to move regions down the tiers.
“I want to say to everyone right across the UK that I know how tough this is and I know how frustrated you are and I know that you’ve had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus but now more than ever we must pull together.”
Under the new rules, people must not leave home except for except for extremely limited reasons, including to shop for basic necessities and to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home.
People are also allowed to exercise with their household or one other person but this should be limited to once a day and people should not travel outside their local area.