In an urgent press conference following talks with cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson announced that from tomorrow (Sunday) areas in the South East of England which are currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.
In addition, the rest of England will see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three household to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.
"We cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Mr Johnson said.
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Defending the changes, Mr Johnson said: “We, of course, bitterly regret the changes that are necessary but, alas, when the facts change you have to change your approach.
“The briefing that I had yesterday about this mutation of the virus, particularly about the speed of transmission, was not possible to ignore.”
What are the restrictions under Tier 4?
Tier 4 will look similar to the lockdown rules of November.
The new Tier 4 restrictions will apply in all Tier 3 areas in the South East – covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It will also apply in London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London) and the East of England – Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks.
People will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
Under the new “stay at home” order, people in Tier 4 will be told they should not stay away from home overnight
People should not to travel into a tier four area, though support bubbles will remain unaffected as do the exemptions for separated parents and their children.
The Tier 4 restrictions come into effect from tomorrow (Sunday).
What was said about travel?
The Prime Minister advised people in all tiers to “stay local”, and added that people should “carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad.”
People in Tier 4 will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from “limited exceptions”, such as work purposes.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people considering leaving Tier 4 areas now should unpack their bag and stay at home.
“My short answer would be ‘please unpack it at this stage’,” he said.
How have the Christmas rules changed?
For those living areas under tiers one, two and three, the rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only.
Furthermore, the Christmas bubbles for those in tiers one to three will not be able include anyone in tier four.
What about other parts of the UK?
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, is due to hold a press conference at 5.30pm today. Earlier, she said “preventative action” may be needed to halt the spread of a new strain of coronavirus.
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said he would chair a meeting of his cabinet.
He tweeted: “I attended a four nation call earlier today to discuss serious concerns over the spread of a new Covid variant. I will chair a meeting of the @WelshGovernment Cabinet at 2pm today.”
What do we know about the new Covid variant?
Confirming that the spread of Covid was being driven by the new variant, Boris Johnson said that "it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant."
However, he stressed that there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality.
Earlier, Professor Whitty said the UK had now informed the World Health Organisation that it had concluded the mutant strain could spread more quickly.
“As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance,” he said in a statement.
“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly.
“We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.
“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 under way to confirm this.
“Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”