Tighter Tiers Are Expected After Emergency Cabinet Meeting Over Mutant Covid Strain
Boris Johnson will give a press conference from Downing Street later this afternoon and is currently holding an emergency cabinet call.
The Prime Minister is expected to give new advice on Christmas after chief medical officer Chris Whitty confirmed the UK's new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the South East.
It is believed London and some of the Home Counties could see the introduction of a strict new Tier 4 if virus rates continue to soar, which could restrict commuting, shut non-essential shops and include school closures in the new term.
Christmas bubbles could be cancelled for people in the new Tier 4, limiting the number of households that can meet and reducing days spent together.
People in tier 4 are expected to be told to 'stay home', while 'stay local' advice will apply to tiers 1-3.
For the rest of England, new limits could be placed on the number of days people can spend together over Christmas.
The unusual Saturday update from the prime minister comes as British scientists have informed the World Health Organisation about the new strain of the disease.
Professor Whitty said: “As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance.
“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.”
Cases have been rising this week across London and the South East. In the seven days up until December 13, Enfield borough saw a 100 percent increase in cases, as did Epping Forest and Broxbourne. There are currently around 8000 cases in Kent with an average of 530.9 cases per 100,000 population.
Nationally, 28,507 people tested positive, with 167,713 people testing positive in the last week - a 40 percent increase on the week before.
The latest R number is back above 1 at 1.1 to 1.2 as of Friday December 18.