British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Christmas meetings cannot continue and non-essential stores must close in London and much of southern England as he has imposed a new higher level of coronavirus restrictions in the region to contain infections that spread quickly.
Johnson said on Saturday that the capital and other areas of southern England currently under Tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, will move to an even more stringent new Tier 4, which requires non-essential stores, hairdressers and locations closed leisure facilities close after the end of business hours on Saturday.
He also said that a planned five-day loosening of socialization rules that would allow up to three families to gather in “Christmas bubbles” will be canceled for Level 4 areas. No mixing of households will be allowed, except under very limited conditions outside of public places.
One day Christmas bubble for some
Johnson said that in the rest of England, people will be allowed to gather in the Christmas bubbles for just one day, instead of December 23-27, as originally planned.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I must say that we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned,” said the prime minister.
“We have said throughout this pandemic that we must all be guided by science. When science changes, we must change our response,” he said.
Johnson had been discussing with his senior ministers on Saturday what urgent action to take after England’s medical director, Dr. Chris Whitty, said a government virus advisory group thinks a new strain of coronavirus could spread more quickly.
WATCH | There is no need to worry about the new coronavirus strain, says the virologist:
Whitty said that while there is no current evidence that the new coronavirus variant has caused a higher death rate or impacted vaccines, urgent work is underway to confirm this.
“We alert the World Health Organization and continue to analyze the data available to improve our understanding,” he said in a statement.
The government said on Monday that an increase in infections in London and south east England may be linked to a new, more transmissible variant of the virus.
Britain reported 28,507 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 489 deaths, with the estimated “R” breeding number between 1.1 and 1.2, meaning that the number of cases is increasing rapidly.
This is a good summary of what we know, we don’t know and & are investigating the new # SARS-CoV-2 variant # COVID19 . It is important to note that scientists are working hard here: some of these questions are not easy to answer with certainty. It is important to hear your thoughts about the work being done now. https://t.co/O9chTcE27U
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Johnson hopes to ease restrictions over Christmas
Johnson said on Friday that he hoped England would not need to enter a third confinement after Christmas and that he had so far resisted calls to change plans to ease restrictions for five days during the festive period, allowing three families to meet indoors.
WATCH | The COVID-19 vaccine may need to be adjusted regularly:
“Failing to act decisively now will mean more suffering. We must continue to ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing enough, are we acting fast enough?'” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said on twitter.
The opposition Labor Party said the hierarchical system was unable to contain the spread of the virus.
“It has been clear for a few days that the virus is again out of control in parts of the country,” said Jonathan Ashworth, a spokesman for the Labor Party.