LONDON - The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Monday closed schools and imposed strict national lockdown in England, as a coronavirus variant continued to spread quickly.

The decision comes as Britain’s desperate race to vaccinate its population risked being overtaken by the variant of the coronavirus that was on track to overwhelm the nation’s beleaguered hospitals.

Scotland set to go into Covid lockdown from midnight

The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland will go into a Covid lockdown from midnight tonight for the rest of the month.

Sturgeon said the new measures would be “similar to the lockdown of March last year” and could be extended past the end of this month if necessary.

Schools and places of worship will be shut north of the border and meetings of more than two people from different households will be banned, however there will be unlimited individual exercise allowed.

Cases in the UK hit 54,990 yesterday and 366,435 in the last seven days – a 47.6 per cent week-on-week increase.

Deaths are also surging, with the total now at 75,000.

The new measures are expected to last until mid-February.

Mr Johnson said the new variant – which is 50% to 70% more transmissible – was spreading in a "frustrating and alarming" manner.

"As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic," he said.

Mr Johnson's statement came after the chief medical officers for the first time raised the UK to the highest level on the Covid-19 alert system.

They warned the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed within 21 days "in several areas" without further action.

The restrictions are unlikely to be eased until around 13 million people aged over 70 or classed as clinically extremely vulnerable have received the vaccine and been given enough time to be protected – a period of about two to three weeks after getting the jab.