Boris Johnson has issued a new “stay at home” order covering London and much of the south and east of England, and dramatically curtailed plans for Christmas mixing nationwide, in response to a new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus.
Just days after reaffirming the festive “bubble” plan and claiming it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas, the prime minister announced the creation of a new, stricter “tier 4”.
Only households living outside this area will now be allowed to mix for Christmas in England – and then only for a single day, 25 December, with long-distance travel discouraged.
The Scottish and Welsh governments have been briefed on the situation and are expected to announce their own plans.
The new tier 4 rules will come into effect at midnight, and will be similar to those in place during the four-week lockdown in November.
Non-essential retail, leisure venues and close-contact services such as hairdressers will not be allowed to reopen after they close on Saturday.
The restrictions were announced by the prime minister at a hastily-convened press conference on Saturday, alongside the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. They will initially be in place for a fortnight.
Johnson announced the draconian new restrictions after being presented with evidence on Friday night that the new strain of coronavirus recently identified in the capital and in Kent, is spreading more rapidly than the previous strain.
The weekly average case rate for England has increased by more than 66% in the past fortnight, and in London it has nearly doubled in the past week. The new variant is accounting for 60% of infections in London.
The plans were confirmed in a cabinet call on Saturday afternoon, and the prime minister also spoke to the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to discuss them.