LONDON: Scotland on Monday announced a tougher stay-at-home lockdown for the month of January to try and control the rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus, as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there was "no question we're going to have to take tougher measures" in England.
The devolved administrations of the United Kingdom set their individual levels of restrictions but most of the country was already under the tough Tier 4 lockdown measures, requiring all non-essential retail to shut down and also a ban on different households mixing.
However, Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reconvened the Scottish Parliament on Monday to declare that from midnight, new laws will require everyone in Scotland to stay at home and work from home where possible.
Outdoor gatherings are also to be cut back, with people only allowed to meet one person from one other household.
"We can already see -- by looking at infection rates in the south of England -- some of what could happen here in Scotland.
To prevent that, we need to act immediately and firmly," said Sturgeon.
"For government, that means introducing tough measures -- as we have done today. And for all of us, it means sticking to the rules," she said.
The announcement came as Johnson indicated that he will be setting out tougher lockdown rules for England as well, amid pressure from the Opposition Labour Party to impose a complete nationwide lockdown.
"No question we're going to have to take tougher measures," said Johnson, during a hospital visit in north London on Monday, the day the National Health Service (NHS) began administering the first set of Oxford University jabs.
"What we have been waiting for is to see the impact of the Tier 4 measures on the virus and it is a bit unclear, still, at the moment.
But if you look at the numbers, there is no question that we are going to have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course," he said.
An additional 454 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test result were reported across the UK on Sunday, meaning the total by this measure is now above 75,000.
Hospitals across the country are coming under increasing pressure as cases mount.
"The spread of the new variant of COVID-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives," a Downing Street spokesperson said, confirming that the UK Prime Minister would address the nation later on Monday evening to set out the changes.
Meanwhile, Wales remains in a nationwide lockdown since December 20, while Northern Ireland is in the second week of a six-week lockdown that began on December 26.
Johnson wanted to avoid blanket school closures for England but that seems less likely even as all of London's schools were asked not to resume from Monday in the usual course.
"This new variant is much easier to catch, it is much more transmissible, and we're now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country, unfortunately," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"And it means that, whereas the old Tier 3 was able to contain the old variant, that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country," he said.
There is also growing concern in the UK about a second South African variant of coronavirus, which is said to be even more highly transmissible, causing fears that it may even be resilient to the COVID-19 vaccines now being rolled out.