Scottish officials on Monday announced a host of new lockdown measures as the United Kingdom continues to react to the spread of a new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that officials have blamed for a surge of new cases.
The BBC reported that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's government will close places of worship, group exercise classes and other places where in-person gatherings occur, while schools will revert to online classes. The majority of the measures apply to the Scottish mainland, while outlying islands where the virus is spreading at a lower rate are being closely monitored.
The new measures also include a stay-at-home order directing most workers to work from home, and restrictions on gatherings of individuals from separate households were also put in place.
Sturgeon told reporters Monday that she was "more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year," according to the BBC, and added that a "steeply rising" rate of new cases threatened to overwhelm the country's hospitals.
"The Scottish government will do everything we can to speed up distribution of the vaccine. But all of us must do everything we can to slow down the spread of the virus," Sturgeon said, according to the news agency.
"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," she added.
The U.K., as a whole, reported nearly 55,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, one of its highest single-day totals since the pandemic began, and has reported the most cases of any European nation. Scotland has seen better control of the virus's spread than England, according to a breakdown of regional data by The New York Times, and is currently reporting 2,475 cases per 100,000 citizens in comparison to 4,085 cases per 100,000 citizens in England.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson instituted a series of new lockdown measures for the month of November and closed shops ahead of the Christmas holiday last year, and in December moved to implement a series of strict regional virus prevention measures to combat the continuing surge of new cases. The U.K. has also begun the distribution of two vaccines for COVID-19, one produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and another by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.