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'Stay at home': Boris Johnson announces strict Christmas lockdown for London and south-east England

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty says the new coronavirus variant can spread more quickly.
Dec 19th 2020, 3:05 PM 82,402 54

Updated Dec 19th 2020, 4:20 PM

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has announced tighter restrictions for London, the South East and East of England while cutting back on planned relaxation of the rules over Christmas.

Under the new level of restriction, Tier 4, all non-essential shops, gyms and hairdressers will close, with people advised to stay at home apart from limited exceptions. He said the advice is to “stay local”. People are asked not to enter or leave Tier 4 areas. 

The restrictions come into to effect from Sunday until 30 December. 

The new measures could affect the Christmas plans of thousands of Irish people resident in London and the wider area.

“We must look again at Christmas,” Johnson said, adding that “with a very heavy heart”  the easing of rules as planned will not go ahead. 

People in Tier 4 areas are asked not to mix with other households over Christmas. 

In other parts of England people will only be allowed to meet up with two other households on Christmas Day, rather than the original five days.

“Yes, Christmas this year will be different, very different but we must be realistic. We’re sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones. This Christmas. So we have a better chance of protecting their lives, so that we can see them in future Christmases. And as sure as night follows day. We’ll beat back this virus, we’ll defeat it and reclaim our lives.”

Johnson said that Christmas this year would be a chance to “lift a glass to those that aren’t there” in the hope that increased restrictions would allow families to meet again in the new year.

He said that bubbles for elderly and lonely people would provide “consolation” for cancelled festive plans.

The announcement follows emergency talks between Johnson and cabinet ministers this afternoon as scientists confirmed that the new variant coronavirus was spreading more rapidly.

“This is early data and it’s subject to review. But it’s the best that we have at the moment, and we have to act on information as we have it, because this is spreading very fast,” Johnson said. 

“While we’re fairly certain, the variant is transmitted more quickly. There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness equally.”

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New variant 

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the UK had informed the World Health Organisation that it had concluded the mutant strain could spread more quickly.

“As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance,” he said in a statement.

“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly.

“We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.

“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this.

“Given this latest development, it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”

The latest development comes after Johnson refused to rule out a third national lockdown for England – a move he has previously been deeply reluctant to contemplate.

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Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced fresh lockdowns once Christmas is over while the Scottish Government has said the option “remains on the table”.

Much of the latest focus is on the south and east of England where the new variant is thought to be most prevalent.

Latest figures from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed the R number for the UK was estimated to have risen to between 1.1 and 1.2 – which means the disease is growing again.

A further 339 people who tested positive for coronavirus died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 46,122, NHS England said today. 

- With reporting from PA

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