London To Move Into Tier 3 Restrictions From Wednesday After "Very Sharp Exponential Rises" In Coronavirus
London will be moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed to the House of Commons.
He said there had been "very sharp, exponential rises in the virus" in the capital as well as in Kent and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
Speaking in the Commons the minister revealed a “new variant” of Covid-19 has been identified and may be the cause of recent rapid rise in infection rates in the South of England.
Mr Hancock added: "Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.
"We've currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.
"And numbers are increasing rapidly.”
A review of the tier system was due to take place on Wednesday, but the health secretary brought forward the decision today to try and drive down infections, revealing the tough new measures will come into effect at 00:01 on Wednesday.
He said: "I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
"We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
The Cabinet minister revealed that as well as all 32 boroughs in the capital and the City of London the south and west of Essex will also be moved into tier 3 from tomorrow night.
This includes Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea.
And the tougher rules will also be placed on Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority in Hertfordshire.
"This means that people can only see friends and family they don't live with or are in a support bubble with in outdoor public places and of course in line with the rule of six,” Mr Hancock said.
"Hospitality settings must close except takeaway and delivery and people should avoid travelling outside their area and reduce the number of journeys they make wherever possible."
London is currently in tier 2, and the Chancellor and other members of the Cabinet have previously resisted it being placed in tier 3, arguing it would have a catastrophic impact on the economy and could cause up to 500,000 jobs to be lost.
But Mr Hancock said the move needed to be made, telling MPs: "I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted and that for businesses affected, it will be a significant blow, but this action is absolutely essential not just to keep people safe, but because we've seen early action can prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.
"These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too and we must take the actions that are not necessarily easy but are effective.
"We'll continue to stand with those who are most impacted through our furlough scheme and support for the self-employed, we've already begun to surge mobile testing into these parts of London, Essex and Kent and we're extending community testing too.
"In addition, I can tell the House that this weekend as part of our expansion of community testing, we're extending it to 67 local authorities across England and further today we'll be publishing a guide for colleagues to promote, support and champion local community testing and contact tracing.”
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said the government's decision is "incredibly disappointing" for businesses, but he urged Londoners to follow the measures to "avoid even tougher restrictions, for longer, further down the road".
In a statement he said: ”The worst thing for London's businesses and our economy would be yet another full lockdown in the new year. That's why I urge Londoners to follow the tier 3 rules that the government is putting in place very closely so that we can drive down infection rates as much as possible.”
Mr Khan has also called for schools in London to close early for Christmas this week after large numbers of outbreaks in educational settings.
One borough in the south east of the capital, Greenwich, has already moved to shut classrooms from today, while Islington in the north has advised schools to move to online learning from the end of Tuesday.
But Downing Street said they are expected to stay open until the end of term, with the Prime Minister's official spokesman saying: "We've consistently said that not being in school has a detrimental impact on children's learning as well as their own personal development and mental health.
"Which is why we expect all schools and colleges to remain open until the end of term on Thursday, as schools have remained open throughout the pandemic."
Asked whether action will be taken against councils that close early, the spokesman said: "Our regional school commissioner teams are working closely with schools and local authorities across the country and will continue to work with them and support them to remain open."
Responding to the news the capital would move into tier 3, the Confederation of British Industry warned thousands of jobs could be at risk and the financial impact of the restrictions "will be stark”.
Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said the announcement is “devastating news for the city's world-leading theatre industry”, and called for “rapid compensation” over Christmas.