Boris Johnson has issued a new “stay at home” order, covering London and most of the south and east of England, and drastically restricted plans for Christmas mixing, in response to a new, fast-spreading strain of coronavirus.
Despite reassuring the British public that the festive “bubble” plan would go ahead – and claiming it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas – the prime minister has done just that, announcing the creation of a stricter set of ‘tier 4’ rules.
Only households outside tier 4 will now be able to mix for Christmas in England – and those households will only be able to do so for Christmas Day, with long-distance travel discouraged.
The new rules come into effect at midnight, and are essentially a repeat of the four-week lockdown in November – meaning non-essential retail, leisure venues and services like hairdressers will not be allowed to open.
“We cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said at a hastily-convened Downing Street press conference on Saturday evening.
The spread of the virus throughout the south was now “being driven by the new variant of the virus,” the prime minister said. “It may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the old variant,” he added.
Scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) concluded that the mutant strain identified by Public Health England – known as VUI2020/01 – was spreading more quickly.
Areas entering tier 4 restrictions include the entirety of Greater London, as well as Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford & Tendring) have also been added to the list.
More to follow.