Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly.
The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.
Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks – while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
The rest of England will also see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three household to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street news conference that he was making the changes with a “very heavy heart”.
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.”
Alert Level 4 restrictions will be brought forward to apply across Wales from midnight, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a “strict travel ban” between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Follow the latest updates below.
Reports on transmissibility of new variant are ‘more depressing’ than anticipated, says Prof Paul Hunter
Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said:
“Today’s press briefing was perhaps not too surprising. We did hear more information about this new variant SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“That viruses mutate to become more infectious is not surprising and that this could happen with new and emergent viruses has been known for some time.
“To me these reports on the transmissibility of the new variant are even more depressing than I had anticipated. An increase in R of 0.4 or greater is extremely bad news. During the national lockdown in November the best we could achieve was an R value of somewhere between 0.8 and 1.0 around the UK.
“What this means is that even if we went back to the National Lockdown it would still not be enough to bring the R value down to less than 1.0. It is even uncertain whether if we went back to the lockdown of March and April we would bring the R value down to less than 1.0. So, perhaps, all we can now hope for is that the epidemic increases less rapidly with the measures that the PM announced today. ”
Travel ban will remain in place throughout festive period, says Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon said: “In order to reduce the risk of more of the [coronavirus] strain being imported into Scotland, we intend to maintain a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK.