The government has started the new year in crisis mode as new Covid infections rise exponentially and hospitals report rapidly rising admissions. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, had been desperate to avoid another round of widespread school closures but the highly transmissible new variant of the virus has left the government with few options. Millions of pupils will now return to remote learning.
Guardian political correspondent Peter Walker tells Anushka Asthana that the government was forced into a new nationwide lockdown as the only response equal to the fast-spreading new covid variant. There was at least a glimmer of positive news on the route out of the crisis: the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were administered on Monday with millions more in the pipeline.