British Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a stricter set of coronavirus controls on millions of people in England on Saturday, urging them to stay home and drastically reduced plans to reduce restrictions during Christmas.
With the average number of cases in England soaring due to a new, more contagious strain of the virus, Johnson said the government had to take urgent action.
“I know how much emotion people are investing in this time of year … I know how disappointing this is going to be,” Johnson told a news conference. “There is no alternative open to me.”
London and the south-east of England – about a third of the English population – are currently at the highest level of a three-tier rule system and will now be placed in a new level 4 level.
People will need to stay home except for essential reasons like work, and unnecessary retail closes, as well as indoor leisure and entertainment. Social mixing is limited to meeting another person in an outdoor room.
Johnson had said on Friday that he hoped England would not need a third suspension after Christmas. He had also resisted calls to change plans to reduce restrictions for five days during the party period and allow three separate households to meet indoors. He said on Wednesday that it would be “frankly inhumane” to ban Christmas.
However, those who are now in Tier 4 may not mix with others during Christmas. And everyone else can now only see friends and family for one day.
The new rules come into force on Saturday night at midnight.
New rules just six days before Christmas
“Millions will be heartbroken by this news and have their Christmas plans broken with less than a week’s notice,” opposition leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter.
“In this time of national crisis, the British people want clear, decisive leadership. All we get from Boris Johnson is confusion and indecision.”
The United Kingdom’s other nations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have introduced various rules for locking during the pandemic.
Scotland said on Saturday it would impose a travel ban on the rest of the UK, and Christmas relief would be limited to just 25 December.
The Welsh Prime Minister said the whole of Wales would enter Tier 4 from midnight, but two households could mingle on Christmas Day.
New virus strain causing “sharp increase in hospital admissions”
Like other countries in Europe, the UK is struggling to contain new waves of the virus. It reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 534 deaths, and it has raised concerns about an increased infection and hospitalization over the past two weeks, caused by the new virus strain – VUI202012 / 01.
“This virus has gained momentum, it is moving fast and it is inevitably leading to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,” said Patrick Vallance, Britain’s scientific director.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the existing level system worked in areas with a very low level of the new variant, but the case increased rapidly in places where it was prominent.
Whitty said authorities had warned the World Health Organization and continued to analyze available data to improve their understanding of the new strain.
“There is no evidence to suggest that it is more deadly or causes more serious illness,” Johnson said.
The UK has been one of the most affected European countries – with more than 67,000 coronavirus-linked deaths and more than 2 million cases reported.
Other countries have also reported variants of the virus. South Africa said on Friday that such a tribe was driving a second wave of infections there.
“We think it (the variant) can be in other countries as well,” Vallance said. “It may have started here, we do not know for sure.”
( Jowharwith REUTERS)