A third national lockdown has left many businesses facing a battle for survival, the Essex Chamber of Commerce has warned.

Boris Johnson has imposed the toughest national lockdown in England since March, shutting schools to most pupils to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by surging coronavirus infections.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday evening, the Prime Minister pinned hopes on the rollout of vaccines to ease the restrictions, but warned that the measures being introduced immediately are expected to last until at least mid-February.

David Burch, director of policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce, said the new lockdown, which he felt was a threat to many of the county’s businesses, was ‘disappointing but understandable’.

He added: “Despite receiving government support many businesses, especially smaller ones who are not deemed essential, are in a precarious position from previous lockdowns and we are concerned that some of them will not survive long term.”

Harlow MP Robert Halfon warned the NHS was within 21 days of being ‘overwhelmed’ if action had not been taken.

“No one wants to be in this situation”, he said. “Britain is not unique. There are lockdowns happening across Europe, in Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.

“The difference this time, however, is that there is hope. Vaccinations are already being rolled out.

“If things go well, the NHS realistically expects everyone in the top four priority groups will have been vaccinated by mid-February. Once this has happened in Harlow and across the country, restrictions can be lifted.”

Epping Forest MP Dame Eleanor Lain took to twitter in a plea for residents to follow the rules imposed by the Government.

She said: “Once again, we’ve been asked to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”

A new national lockdown was inevitable and necessary given the rapid spread of the new coronavirus variant, first found in the South East of England, Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, has said.

The new strain has been blamed for surging rates of infection in Epping Forest and Harlow, which are among some of the worst in the country.

Professor Woolhouse said: “The new variant is a game changer and made the Prime Minister’s announcement of a full national lockdown for England almost inevitable.

“Given the estimates of the transmissibility of the new variant, this lockdown may not be as effective as the one last March.

“It may be that the best we can hope for is that the situation does not deteriorate further.”

Mr Johnson said the new variant of coronavirus, which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible, was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner and warned that the number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals is 40 per cent higher than the first peak.

“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle, because with every jab that goes into our arms we’re tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people,” the Prime Minister said.

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