More UK regions will enter tier 4 restrictions on Boxing Day as part of efforts to contain the new variant of coronavirus found in south-east England,
Government ministers held a meeting on Wednesday to finalise plans to contain the new, faster spreading strain. Matt Hancock announced that Oxfordshire, most of Hampshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, West Sussex and the whole of East Sussex would all move into tier 4 from Saturday.
The decision will mean that a further 6 million people will join the almost 18 million people already living under tier 4 restrictions.
In a Downing Street press conference held, Hancock said, “Just as we’ve got a tiered system in place that was able to control this virus, we’ve discovered a new more contagious virus, a variant that is spreading at a dangerous rate.”
Separately, Hancock has also revealed that a different from the one identified in the UK has been linked with people arriving from South Africa. He said, “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”
Hancock announced there were immediate bans on visitors coming from South Africa.
Figures show case numbers have risen by 57% across England in the last week. There are currently nearly 19,000 people in hospital with coronavirus. Hancock said this is almost as many cases as the peak in the first wave.
“Against this backdrop of rising infections, rising hospitalisations and rising numbers of people dying from coronavirus, it is absolutely vital that we act. We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for,” he said.
“We know that the three-tiered system worked to control the old variant and is working now in large parts of the country, especially in northern England. But we also know that tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant. This is not a hypothesis, it is a fact and we’ve seen it on the ground.”
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said there were no plans in place to send England into a national lockdown. Jenrick also offered reassurance the tiered system was enough to keep the virus and its variants under control.
Describing the variants as "significant game-changers" he said, "What we want to do now is just make sure that the tiered system is right, that it’s sufficiently robust, that it can withstand and do the job, which is to keep the virus under control, even in these new changed circumstances.”