A THIRD national lockdown is "absolutely essential" in order to protect the NHS from spiralling coronavirus cases, council bosses have said.

David Finch, leader of Essex County Council, said the move was a blow to the county and country as a whole, but necessary due to growing pressure on health services in Essex and further afield.

He said: "The lockdown announcement will not have been the news anyone wanted to begin the New Year on.

"But equally, it is absolutely essential to protect the NHS, and all of us, from the new variant of coronavirus.

“In Essex we have witnessed the growing pressure on our NHS acute hospitals and the wider health system during the past few weeks. Last week a major incident was declared.

"We are not yet through these pressures and we and our colleagues in the NHS are working night and day to ensure the viability of our health services.

“The new lockdown restrictions will impact families particularly as schools will now move to remote learning, with the exception of vulnerable children or children of critical workers.

"We will continue to do everything possible to ensure all children and families have the equipment they need to access remote learning."

However, Mr Finch said there was "cause for optimism" looking forward.

"The Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine is with us, with the first doses being administered in Essex over the next week," he said.

"All being well, by the time we reach the end of the February, we will have turned a corner with the most vulnerable, because of age or medical condition, and essential workers in the NHS and care homes having received the vaccine."

He added: "We have come a long way, but the end is in sight.

"While we travel that final distance, we must all remember to play our part, follow the rules, and protect ourselves, those around us, and the NHS.”