Millions More People Will Be Placed Into Tier 4 Lockdown After A Surge In Coronavirus Cases
More than three quarters of England will be in the toughest Tier 4 lockdown measures from New Year's Eve following a major spike in coronavirus cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that all of the north-east, Greater Manchester, Leicester and large parts of the south-west and the Midlands would be placed under the strictest rules from Thursday morning.
Under the rules, people will be told to stay at home unless they have to travel for work or education, with non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers all forced to close.
Mr Hancock said the measures were needed to tackle the spread of the new strain of the virus which has led to a surge in infections.
It comes after a further 50,000 new coronavirus cases were reported yesterday - the highest number since the beginning of the mass vaccination programme.
Updating MPs on the latest changes, Mr Hancock said efforts to combat the virus had become a "whole lot harder because of the new variant", adding: "We also have to take some difficult decisions - the NHS is under very significant pressure.
"There are over 21,000 people in hospital with coronavirus right now. And we can see the impact that this is having.
"The threat to life from this virus is real, and the pressures on the NHS are real too."
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said that all areas which had been in Tier 2 were also rising in a bid to tackle the infection, including areas such as Liverpool which had offered mass testing to residents ahead of Christmas in a bid to reduce the spread.
"Even in most areas not moving into Tier 4, cases are rising too, and it is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures more broadly too - including in Liverpool and North Yorkshire," he added.
"The rest of Yorkshire remains in Tier 3. These changes will take effect from 00:01 tomorrow morning.
"The new variant means that three quarters of the population are now going to be in Tier 4 and almost all of the country in Tiers 3 and 4.
"And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.
"But where we are still able to give places greater freedoms, we will continue to do so."
The announcement comes just hours after the UK's drug watchdog approved the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the UK, with Mr Hancock saying the jab offered a "route of of this crisis".
"It's the single biggest stride that we've been able to take since this pandemic began," he added.
"It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no one in this house wants to see any longer than absolutely necessary. But... we must act to suppress the virus.
"Now, not least because the new variant makes time the time between now and then even more difficult."
It is expected that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will later today also announce a delay to the return of secondary school pupils in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.