Published on : Thursday, December 24, 2020
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed more tougher regulations across a large swath of England in an effort to stamp down on the mutant strain of COVID-19 that’s spreading quickly across the country.
Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, most of Hampshire and the remainder of Essex will face the strictest rules in the government’s 4-tier system, after midnight on December 26, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday. They join London and southeast England, meaning non-essential shops will have to close and socialising is further curtailed.
The new variant “is spreading at a dangerous rate,” said Hancock, putting the rise in cases in the past week at 57 per cent. “The direction is clear and in many cases quite stark.”
The U.K. government is struggling to bring the virus back under control after the new mutant strain began spreading rapidly in London and surrounding area.
After an England-wide lockdown last month halted growth in infections, the virus has since started spreading exponentially again, risking overwhelming the National Health Service as cases tick upwards.
The latest decision means that 24 million people will be in tier 4, 25 million in tier 3, and 7 million in tier 2. The just over 2,000 residents of the Isles of Scilly off the southwest coast will be the only people left in tier 1 in England.
The UK reported 39,237 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the biggest daily increase since the pandemic began. Another 744 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test, the highest since the end of April.
While ministers hold out hope that a vaccination programme that started this month means the restrictions can start to be eased in the spring, Hancock warned that the new mutation complicates matters. This Christmas and the start of 2021 is going to be tough. The new variant makes everything much harder because it spreads so much faster.
The new coronavirus variant, which emerged in southeast England in September, has alarmed scientists and governments around the world because early analysis suggests it may be as much as 70 per cent more transmissible than other circulating strains. Countries including France temporarily suspended travel from the UK in response.
Hancock also said that two new cases of an even “more transmissible” variant originating in South Africa have so far been detected in the UK. He told people who have recently returned form South Africa to go into quarantine. The countries around the world have in recent days also closed their borders to South Africa.
South African experts have been studying the new strand closely. Tulio de Oliveira of Kwazulu-Natal University said on Wednesday that one thing that we think and evidence points in the same direction is that it is more transmissible.
The discovery came as more countries began vaccination campaigns to halt a pandemic that has claimed more than 1.7 million lives since the virus was first detected in a year ago in China.