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London to enter ‘Tier 3’ restrictions as new variant of Covid identified

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Greater London and parts of the South East will be plunged into Tier 3 – the very high alert system of local restrictions – from Wednesday.

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the capital as well as South and West Essex and South Hertfordshire will be moved into the ‘Tier 3’ level of lockdown restrictions.

This includes:

  • all of London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London
  • Essex: Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree, Chelmsford – and two unitary authorities Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea Borough Councils
  • Hertfordshire: Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and Three Rivers.

This will come into effect from Wednesday 16 December following a spike in coronavirus cases, including a ‘new variant’ which has been identified.

Over 1,000 cases have been identified with this variant, predominantly in the South of England, though cases have also been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas with Hancock warning numbers are increasing rapidly.

Under the very highest restriction rules, the hospitality sector will be closed and will only be able to offer takeaway or delivery services. Social interaction will be curbed so people who don’t live together can only see family and friends in outdoor public places, subject to the ‘Rule of six’. Households can’t mix in indoor settings or meet up in bars, pubs or restaurants.

Hancock also said people should avoid travel outside of their areas and urged people to be “cautious and careful at Christmas” while the special ‘Christmas bubble‘ rules are in place.

Speaking in the Commons, Hancock said average daily hospital admissions are up 13%, while average daily cases have risen 14% in the last week. The rise isn’t just in young people; cases are also rising in those aged over 60.

He said: “This rise and this spread is not even across the country. We are seeing a sharp rise in South Wales, in London, and parts of the East and South East of England.

“We must act to suppress the virus while protecting the economy, education and the NHS until the vaccine can make us safe.

“Over the last few days, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the South East of England. Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.

“There is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.

“But the exponential rise of the virus in London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex mean we have to take swift and decisive action, which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.

“Now I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted, and that for businesses affected, it will be a significant blow.

“So this action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe, but because as we’ve seen early action can help prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.”

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