More Of England Is Likely To Go Into Tier 4 As Tier 3 Restrictions Can't Suppress Mutant Covid-19 Strain, Warns Chief Scientific Adviser
Sir Patrick Vallance said the virulent new strain of Covid-19 is "everywhere" around the UK already (PA)
The new more virulent strain of coronavirus which saw Christmas plans for millions of Brits torn up is already “everywhere” in the UK, according to the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
Sir Patrick Vallance warned that tough Tier 3 measures are not enough to prevent it spreading, sparking fears more parts of England will be placed into the virtual lockdown of Tier 4 already imposed upon London and much of the South East.
He was speaking at a Downing Street press conference alongside Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister chaired an emergency Cobra meeting to deal with the chaos at Britain’s borders following the decision by France to suspend travel between the two countries.
It was sparked by the revelation that the soaring case rates in South East England are due to the mutant VUI-202012/01 strain of Covid-19, which research suggests is up to 70% easier to transmit that previous versions.
But Sir Patrick warned it has already “spread around the country” despite the PM moving to place severe restrictions in the new Tier 4 areas, suggesting they will have to be extended.
"It's localised in some places but we know there are cases everywhere, so it's not as though we can stop this getting into other places, there's some there already,” he said.
"The message has been very clear and, I think I want to reinforce it, is stay local.
"I mean, people shouldn't be travelling around the country at the moment.”
He said the country is entering “a period of inevitable mixing” over Christmas, adding he thought there would be an increase in case numbers, which would require further restrictions in response.
Asked why the whole country is not in lockdown Sir Patrick said: "The evidence on this virus is that it spreads easily, it's more transmissible, we absolutely need to make sure we have the right level of restrictions in place.
"I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country and I think it's likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.
"I think it is the case that this will spread more."
The discovery of the more virulent strain places more emphasis on getting the population vaccinated, and Mr Johnson revealed more than 500,000 people in the UK have now received their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech version.
But he was not able to give any good news on the situation at the Kent border crossings, after failing to come to an agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron about the resumption of freight travel.
Thousands of lorries are now backed up on the M20 motorway and the disused Manston airport tonight while the situation waits to be resolved.
The PM said: "We are working with our friends across the Channel to unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible.
"And the government at all levels is communicating with our friends in Paris.
"I have just spoken to President Macron, we had a very good call.
"And we both understand each other's positions and want to resolve these problems as fast as possible.”
He said he had an "excellent conversation" with the French president and his counterpart “was keen to sort it out in the next few hours if we can”.
After scores of countries rushed to block travel to and from Britain over fears about the new covid strain, Mr Johnson added: "I want to stress that we in the UK fully understand the anxieties of our friends about Covid, their anxieties about the new variant.
"But, it is also true that we believe the risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low.
"And so we hope to make progress as fast as we possibly can.
"I want to repeat that these delays only apply to a very small percentage of food entering the UK, and as British supermarkets have said, their supply chains are strong and robust, so everyone can continue to shop normally."