Christmas Coronavirus Restrictions Have Been Announced Across The Whole Of The UK
Boris Johnson announced he was moving a third of the country into new tier 4 restrictions to deal with a new strain of coronavirus (Sky News)
Plans to spend Christmas with their loved ones have been dashed for almost 20 million people in England after Boris Johnson placed London and large parts of the South East into draconian new “Tier 4” coronavirus restrictions.
A third of the country will no longer be allowed to form bubbles with two other households over the festive period as the Prime Minister acted to deal with a virulent new strain of Covid-19 that he said "may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant".
Johnson's announcement was followed by further restrictions in Scotland and Wales.
Wales will go into Tier 4 from Saturday midnight, with First Minister Mark Drakeford describing the situation as "serious". Rules had been due to be relaxed to allow people to celebrate Christmas from 23 to 28 December – but instead the relaxation will only be allowed on Christmas Day.
Nicola Sturgeon announced a travel ban into Scotland from the rest of the UK, and said the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions would apply across the country for three weeks from Boxing Day.
Those living in England in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 are still able to form a Christmas bubble, but it can only be for Christmas Day itself - not for five days as previously announced - and people cannot stay over at another household.
The restrictions however do not impact on existing support bubbles created to help with care and childcare reasons.
Announcing the news at a Downing Street press conference Mr Johnson said: “We must, I'm afraid, look again at Christmas and as Prime Minister it's my duty to take difficult decisions to do what is right, to protect the people of this country.
“Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus the potential risk it poses, it is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”
The dramatic alterations to the policy, almost a month since it was announced and less than a week before it was due to come in force, is down to the prevalence of the newly-identified VUI2020/12/01 strain of the virus.
Last night the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) presented evidence to the PM it was spreading far faster than other versions, and that the existing Tier 3 restrictions were not able to drive down its spread.
As a result Mr Johnson called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet and spoke to the devolved leaders across the UK to warn them changes needed to be made as soon as possible to the festive unlocking.
It is just three days since he told Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs there was unanimous agreement “that we should proceed, in principle, with the existing regulations, because we do not want to criminalise people’s long-made plans”.
He said he wished the Labour leader "had the guts just to say what he really wants to do, which is to cancel the plans people have made, and cancel Christmas”.
But after yesterday’s presentation his hand appears to have been forced into doing exactly that himself, with those in areas where the new strain has been found now facing a Christmas among only their own household.
He said: "I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.
"So I know how disappointing this will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.
"When the science changes, we must change our response."
After Johnson's press conference, Mr Starmer said he thought the British public was entitled to "more decisive leadership... They're getting confusion where they needed certainty."
The new Tier 4 will will apply in all tier 3 areas in the South East, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It will also cover all of Greater London and the East of England, which is Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring), affecting more than 17 million people.
For at the next fortnight at least they must work from home if they can - but may travel to work if this is not possible, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors.
All non-essential retail will shut from tonight, as well as indoor leisure venues including gyms, indoor entertainment such as cinemas, bingo halls and casinos, as well as all personal care services.
The PM explained: “People should not enter only Tier 4 areas and Tier 4 residents must not stay overnight, away from home.
“Individuals can only meet one person from another household in an outdoor public space.”Although he described how easily the new strain can be transmitted, Mr Johnson wanted to be clear there's no current evidence to suggest it causes a higher mortality rate, or that the existing vaccines and the treatments don't work against it.
The PM said: "Nervtag early analysis suggests the new variant could increase the R by 0.4 or more and although there is considerable uncertainty it may be up to 70% more transmissible then the old variant.
"This is early data and is subject to review but it is the best that we have at the moment and we have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast."
Explaining why he believed there was "no alternative open to me", Mr Johnson added: "Without action the evidence suggests that infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives."