Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced London and parts of southeast England will go into ‘Tier 4 lockdown’ – the highest level of the UK’s coronavirus alert system – starting at midnight.
Johnson imposed the measures amid a surge in cases in the region that doctors believed is being fueled by a fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains.
President Trump criticized the UK’s decision to impose strict lockdown restrictions in large parts of England on Saturday
Trump made clear the US would not be following suit, claiming the ‘cure cannot be worse than the problem itself’
Although it is not believed to be more fatal, the mutant strain has sparked fears of a potential outbreak in the US, which is already grappling with record-breaking rates of hospitalizations and virus-related deaths.
President Trump on Saturday however made it clear the US would not be following suit with Johnson’s decision.
‘We don’t want to have lockdowns. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself!’ Trump said in a tweet replying to the news.
Trump has repeatedly expressed he is against imposing another nationwide lockdown for the sake of the economy and struggling businesses.
Meanwhile Johnson, whose initial response to the pandemic was criticized for being too slow, had resisted calls to change plans for the Christmas relaxation, earlier this week saying it would be ‘frankly inhuman’ to ban it.’
However, those now in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix with others over the Christmas holiday, while everyone else will be permitted to see friends and family only on the actual day, December 25.
Under Tier 4 lockdown – which affects about a third of England’s population – residents will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work.
Non-essential retail will close, as well as indoor leisure and entertainment, and social mixing will be limited to meeting one other person in an outdoor space.
Boris Johnson is taking a Covid press conference today as he creates a new Tier 4 to tackle a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant
The country reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 534 deaths, and there has been growing concern about a surge in infections and hospitalizations brought by the new strain.
The number of cases in England has soared in the last two weeks because of a variant of the virus, identified as VUI202012/01, that scientists said is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains.
What are the new Tier 4 rules?
The Tier 4 rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November.
Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers.
However, places of worship can stay open.
People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots.
London now has the highest infection rates in England, and officials said the new mutation accounted for some 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.
‘This virus has taken off, it’s moving fast and it’s leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,’ Britain’s Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said.
England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the UK has alerted the World Health Organization that the new variant identified this week appears to be accelerating the spread of COVID-19.
The government’s scientific advisers came to that conclusion based on preliminary modelling figures, and they are continuing to analyze the available data, he said.
‘There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this,’ Whitty said in a statement.
Whitty said the existing tier system was working in areas with a very low level of the new variant, but cases were rising fast in places where it was prominent.
Britain has been one of the worst hit European countries – with more than 67,000 deaths linked to coronavirus and more than 2million cases reported.
Other countries have also reported variants of the virus. South Africa said on Friday one such strain was driving a second wave of infections there.
‘We think it (the variant) may be in other countries as well,’ Vallance said. ‘It may have started here, we don’t know for sure.’
With just days to go until Christmas, Johnson also announced that a planned easing of socializing rules that would have allowed up to three households to meet in ‘Christmas bubbles’ from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 , will be canceled for Tier 4 areas and sharply curtailed in the rest of England.
News of the latest crackdown came as countless Britons flocked to the country’s high streets (Oxford Street, pictured) and supermarkets today as they stocked up on Christmas essentials
‘It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned,’ Johnson said.
He said he concluded there was ‘no alternative open to me’ and people must sacrifice this Christmas to have a better chance of protecting the lives of loved ones.
No mixing of households will be allowed in Tier 4 except under very limited conditions outside in public places. Travel in and out of Tier 4 areas won’t be allowed unless essential.
In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of five, as the government originally planned.
The changes upend the plans of millions of people who were looking forward to gathering family and friends next week and force scores to revise their travel plans at the last minute.
Before Saturday, government officials maintained they would allow small, private gatherings to go ahead.
While restaurants, pubs, bars and theaters in much of England had to close Wednesday and were prepared for a bleak Christmas, all shops in Tier 4 areas that don´t sell food or medicine received only hours´ notice that they must shutter after Saturday until officials review the situation on Dec. 30.
The British Retail Consortium said it was ‘hugely regrettable news,’ especially coming just two weeks after a month-long lockdown in England ended and at the height of the year´s peak retail period.
‘Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores COVID–secure for customers and staff,’ said Helen Dickinson, the trade body´s chief executive. ‘For businesses, the government´s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful.’