LONDON, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that the easing of England's new national lockdown, the third of its kind since the pandemic began in Britain early last year, will be a "gradual unwrapping" and not a "big bang".
The prime minister told MPs in the House of Commons, lower house of the British Parliament, that the British government will use "every available second" of the lockdown to place an "invisible shield" around elderly and vulnerable people through the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks.
Johnson made the remarks ahead of a vote on England's third national COVID-19 lockdown later Wednesday.
The prime minister justified his decision to order a third national shutdown with the emergence of a new variant of the virus first identified in Britain, which is said to be up to 70 percent more transmissible.
The variant was "spreading with frightening ease and speed in spite of the sterling work of the British public", said Johnson, adding that it left him with "no choice" but to implement another lockdown in England.
"This mutation has led to more cases than we've seen ever before. Numbers that alas cannot be explained away by the meteoric rise in testing," Johnson told MPs.
"When the ONS (British Office for National Statistics) reports that more than 2 percent of the population is now infected and when the number of patients in hospitals in England is now 40 percent higher than the first peak in April it is inescapable that the facts are changing and we must change our response," said Johnson.
Announcing the lockdown on Monday evening in a televised address, Johnson urged people across the country to "stay at home" except for permitted reasons, echoing the message back in March 2020.
The House of Commons was recalled on Wednesday from its Christmas recess to debate and retrospectively vote on the lockdown which has already been in force.
With the backing of the main opposition the Labour Party, the measure is expected to pass the vote comfortably.
The prime minister has pledged that his government would "do everything we can to keep the virus under control", warning that there are "tough, tough" weeks ahead in the fight against COVID-19.
To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States have been racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines.
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