Britons already living in Tier 4 share frustration over Covid rules

‘So we sacrifice our Christmas but they still get to enjoy theirs?’ Angry Britons already living in Tier 4 share frustration after more areas get set for toughest Covid rules – but not until Boxing Day

  • Matt Hancock pressed the panic button and plunged millions more into Tier 4
  • New areas will not be moved into highest lockdown tier until Boxing Day
  • People in Tier 4 already complained that their Christmas Day plans were ruined 

Tier 4 areas of England from Boxing Day

  • Surrey
  • West Sussex
  • East Sussex
  • Hampshire (apart from the New Forest) 
  • Kent
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Berkshire 
  • All 32 London boroughs and the City of London
  • Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, 
  • Hertfordshire
  • Essex
  • Norfolk
  • Suffolk
  • Cambridgeshire
  • Oxfordshire 

Scores of furious Britons already stuck in Tier 4 today moaned about how families in regions due to be moved to the highest lockdown level will still be able to gather on Christmas Day.

Twitter users living in Tier 4 areas complained about having their Christmas plans ruined with just eight hours’ notice while people due to be plunged into the draconian lockdown have 48 hours.

They hit out at Matt Hancock’s delayed extension of Covid curbs, calling it an ‘absolute joke’, ‘unfair’ and ‘ridiculous’.  

Hospitality chiefs also blasted the ‘disastrous’ move amid fears Tier 4 restrictions wreck the economy and will cripple ‘a sector already on its knees’. 

It will force an extra 50,000 businesses, including non-essential retailers, hairdressers and gyms, to close from Boxing Day, according to new data from real estate adviser Altus Group.  

It comes as the Health Secretary pressed the panic button over ‘mutant’ coronaviruses and plunged millions more families into the highest lockdown regime from Boxing Day. 

He told the remaining parts of the South East not already in the toughest level that they would enter Tier 4 in little more than 48 hours at a Downing Street press conference.  

West Sussex and the parts of East Sussex, Essex, Surrey and Hampshire not already in the top tier will enter Tier 4 from a minute past midnight on Boxing Day, with the exception of the New Forest.

They will be joined by Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire will go from Tier 2 to Tier 3, as will Cheshire and Warrington.

And Cornwall and Herefordshire will enter Tier 2, meaning no parts of England will be in the lowest Tier 1.   

Reacting to the announcement, one Twitter user said: ‘Wow. So some of these people don’t have to start Tier 4 until Boxing Day?? What? How unfair is that for us already in Tier 4 and can’t celebrate Christmas. Ridiculous’. 

Another commented: ‘So they enter Tier 4 on Boxing Day – still get their Christmas Day – but we all had to sacrifice out Christmas??’

One user tweeted: ‘So other areas going into Tier 4 after Boxing Day yet we were put straight in and have Christmas plans ruined? How is that fair?’

‘Riddle me this, why do the new places going into Tier 4 still get Christmas Day, but the OG Tier 4s not??,’ another tweeted.

One person wrote: ‘Mad that my Tier 4 is allowed Christmas but the Tier 4s from the other day aren’t??’  

Matt Hancock pressed the panic button over ‘mutant’ coronaviruses and plunged millions more families into the highest lockdown regime from Boxing Day

Scores of furious Britons already stuck in Tier 4 today moaned about how families in areas due to be moved to the highest lockdown level will be able to gather on Christmas Day

The spread of the new Covid-19 strain could result in parts of the south-west, Midlands and the North being moved into Tier 4 as early as Boxing Day, health sources said today

Another said: ‘So angry at the fact we were given just hours notice going into Tier 4 and all Christmas plans ruined. Yet now, everywhere else has been given a couple of days notice and are still able to have their Christmas with their families – what an absolute joke.’  

One person tweeted: ‘I have been put into Tier 4, so now I am unable to spend Christmas with [a person called Hayley]. I am genuinely devastated.’

Another said: ‘So out of the millions of people in Tier 4, half have a Christmas Day and half don’t. Make it make sense’. 

One social-media user wrote sarcastically: ‘Nice of the Government to allow the new Tier 4 areas to have a Christmas.’  

Reacting to the Health Secretary’s announcement, hospitality leaders warned that the extension of Tier 4 restrictions, which impose mass business closures, could destroy the crippled sector.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nichollas said Tier 4 has ‘flung’ many more businesses ‘to commercial failure’. 

She said: ‘Many more pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels, having invested so much to make their venues safe, are now looking at indefinite and total loss of trading. 

‘They need an immediate message that at the very least, the five per cent VAT rate and business rates holiday will remain throughout next year, supported by an urgent package of survival grants, so that they can attempt to save their businesses.

‘While the Government looks now to address the immediate problem, it must recognise that hospitality was largely shut when transmissions were rising, so were not the hotbeds of infection it has often been accused to have been. 

‘The incessant hammering of hospitality businesses must be followed up with an equally exaggerated raft of supports to rescue the sector when the virus is under better control, or many jobs and livelihoods will have been sacrificed for little effect.’ 

The British Beer & Pub Association said this winter will be ‘the longest winter in living memory for Britain’s pubs and brewers’ and called for further government grants to support struggling landlords. 

Twitter users living in Tier 4 regions complained about having their Christmas plans ruined with just eight hours’ notice while people due to be plunged into lockdown have 48 hours

Burnley’s infection rate currently sits at 438 per 100,000 people, with Lincoln and Boston both over 400. By contrast, Gosport, which is under Tier 4 measures, has 159 cases per 100,000.

Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: ‘The update on the virus and associated tier restrictions today is yet another blow to a sector already on its knees. 

‘It is clear that it is going to be the longest winter in living memory for Britain’s pubs and brewers. Unless there is a greater package of financial support from the Government to secure our pubs and the brewers that supply them, a wave of business failures in the New Year is inevitable.

‘We desperately need the Prime Minister to step up to the plate and commit to an enhanced package of measure for pubs and brewers. 

‘If the Government acts now they can still secure pubs and jobs by giving locals in England the sort of support those in Wales and Scotland are getting. Without this the outlook is very bleak indeed.’

Alastair Kerr from the Campaign for Pubs also blasted the extension of Tier 4, saying: ‘The news today that new areas of the South East will be going into Tier 4 and certain areas of the South West will be entering Tier 3 from Boxing Day is disastrous news for hardworking publicans and their families.   

‘This has been a catastrophic year for pubs across the UK and the communities they serve. With only three days to prepare for closures, pubs & the hospitality trade have yet again been failed by this Government. 

‘It is unacceptable to expect businesses to function on a see-saw open/closed basis and for pubs it is not as simple as turning on the lights and opening the doors. 

‘The Government must now act and do the right thing, which the Campaign has been calling for, and bring in a proper secure economic support package, to give assurance and economic security for the quiet months ahead for all pubs in our country.’

It comes after Sage experts revealed the coronavirus R rate in the UK linked to an existing strain of Covid has risen to between 1.1 and 1.3.  

They hit out at Matt Hancock’s delayed extension of the coronavirus restrictions, calling it an ‘absolute joke’, ‘unfair’ and ‘ridiculous’. Hospitality chiefs also blasted the move, called the Tier 4 extension ‘disastrous’ and ‘another blow to a sector already on its knees’

The outbreak of the new variant of Covid-19 is spreading fastest in London and the East of England, where the R could be as high as a shocking 1.5, and it is at least one or higher in every region of England except the North East and North West. 

Additionally, a second new strain linked to South African arrivals has been identified in the UK, and Mr Hancock said all flights from the nation had been halted.

However, there are fears that a new nationwide lockdown for England is inevitable in January – when children are due to return to school.   

The new variant prevalent in the South East has doubled the number of cases in a week, with another 36,804 new infections recorded yesterday, and 691 deaths. 

This week marks the third week in a row that the figure has risen since the national lockdown brought it down to 1.0 in November.

SAGE, which is headed up by chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance, said: ‘All NHS England regions have R estimates that are above or span 1, suggesting the epidemic is growing in much of the country, with London, the South East, and the East of England clearly above 1.’

The estimates, which take into account data up to December 18 so don’t include any effects of the Tier Four rules in London and the South East, come as a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus is fast becoming dominant in the South.

The variant, now known as B.1.1.7, has spread like wildfire across the capital and home counties and is thought to be on track to become the main version of coronavirus circulating in the UK.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a prolific epidemiologist and Government adviser dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’, today said it appeared to have triggered ‘explosive outbreaks’ in schools in London.  


By David Churchill

What has happened to the coronavirus to trigger such concern?

A new strain of Covid has developed which is said to spread far faster. A ‘strain’ is a new version of a virus which has genetic mutations. The new strain is a version of Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19.

It has been named VUI-202012/01. These letters and numbers stand for ‘variant under investigation’ and the month, December 2020.

What makes it so worrying?

This particular variant is defined by up to 17 changes or mutations in the coronavirus spike protein. It is the combination of some of these changes which scientists believe could make it more infectious.

It is thought they could help the virus’ spike protein latch on to human cells and gain entry more easily.

Is it certain the new variation is accelerating the spread of the virus?

No, but scientists say preliminary evidence suggests it does.

Boris Johnson said it may spread up to 70 per cent more easily than other strains of the virus, potentially driving up the ‘R rate’ – which measures how quickly the virus spreads – significantly.

On Saturday night, Mr Johnson said it could drive up the ‘R rate’ by as much as 0.4.

This would be particularly significant in areas such as Eastern England, where it is 1.4, and both London and the South East, where it is 1.3. The ‘R rate’ must remain below 1 for infections to decrease.

Is the new variant more dangerous?

Scientists don’t think so for now. When asked on Saturday night if it was more lethal than the previous strain, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said ‘the answer seems to be ‘No’, as far as we can tell at the moment’.

Yesterday Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said there was evidence of people with the new variant having higher viral loads inside them.

But she said this did not mean people would get more ill.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘It’s unlikely it’ll make people sicker, but it could make it harder to control.’

If it does make the virus harder to control and hospitals become overrun, it could pose new challenges.

Are mutations unusual?

No. Seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of Sars-Cov-2 have also been observed in other countries, such as Spain.

However, one scientific paper suggests the number and combination of changes which have occurred in this new variant is potentially ‘unprecedented’.

Most mutations observed to date are thought to have happened more slowly. Also, most changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads.

There are already about 4,000 mutations in the spike protein gene.

What has caused the mutation?

This is still being investigated. One theory is that growing natural immunity in the UK population, which makes it harder for the virus to spread, might have forced it to adapt.

Another theory is that it has developed in chronically ill patients who have fought the virus off over a long period of time, with it then being passed onto others.

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, yesterday said it was ‘plausible’ and ‘highly likely’ this has happened.

However, he stressed it is impossible to prove at the moment.

What evidence is there to support the latter theory?

Some evidence supporting it was spotted when samples of virus were collected from a Cambridge patient. They had been treated with convalescent plasma – blood plasma containing antibodies from a recovered patient.

It is possible the virus mutated during that treatment, developing more resistance to the antibodies. This patient died of the infection, but it’s also possible the mutation has occurred elsewhere.

A paper co-authored by Andrew Rambaut, Professor of Molecular Evolution at the University of Edinburgh, states: ‘If antibody therapy is administered after many weeks of chronic infection, the virus population may be unusually large and genetically diverse…creating suitable circumstances for the rapid fixation of multiple virus genetic changes.’

Professor Hunter added: ‘Mutation in viruses are a random event and the longer someone is infected the more likely a random event is to occur.’

What do these mutations do?

Many occur in what’s called the ‘receptor binding domain’ of the virus’ spike protein. This helps the virus latch on to human cells and gain entry. The mutations make it easier for the virus to bind to human cells’ ACE2 receptors.

It is also possible the changes help the virus avoid human antibodies which would otherwise help fight off infection.

Who detected it?

It was discovered by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which carries out random genetic sequencing of positive covid-19 samples.

It is a consortium of the UK’s four public health agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions.

How long has it been in the UK and where did it start?

As of mid-December, there were more than 1,000 cases in nearly 60 different local authorities, although the true number will be higher.

They have predominantly been found in the south east of England, in Kent and London. It may now account for 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.

But it has been detected elsewhere, including in Wales and Scotland.

The two earliest samples were collected on September 20 in Kent and another the next day in London.

Why was action to tackle it not taken sooner?

Because the potentially greater transmissibility was only discovered late last week by academics.

Has it been detected anywhere else in the world?

One aspect of the new variant, known as a N501Y mutation, was circulating in Australia between June and July, in America in July and in Brazil as far back as April, according to scientists.

It is therefore unclear what role, if any, travellers carrying the virus may have had.

Dr Julian Tang, a Virologist and expert in Respiratory science at the University of Leicester, said: ‘Whether or not these viruses were brought to the UK and Europe later by travellers or arose spontaneously in multiple locations around the world – in response to human host immune selection pressures – requires further investigation.’

Another change, known as the D614G variant, has previously been detected in western Europe and North America. But it is possible that the new variant evolved in the UK.

What can I do to avoid getting the new variant?

The same as always – keeping your distance from people, washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask and abiding by the tier restrictions in your area.

Yesterday Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: ‘The way in which you control the spread of the virus, including this new variant, is exactly the same. It is about continuing stringent measures. The same rules apply.’

Will the new variant reduce the effectiveness of vaccines?

More studies are needed.

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that until these are carried out scientists cannot be certain whether – and by how much – the new variant reduces the effectiveness of developed vaccines.

She said: ‘The vaccine induces a strong, multiple response, immune response and therefore it is unlikely that this vaccine response is going to be completely gone.’ When mutations happen it is, in theory, possible the antibodies generated by vaccines can be evaded.

But vaccines produce a wide range of antibodies that simultaneously attack the virus from different angles, making it hard for it to evade all of them at once.

Vaccines could also be tweaked to make them more effective if the new mutation does prove to be more resistant to them.

So what are the scientists doing now?

Scientists will be growing the new strain in the lab to see how it responds. This includes looking at whether it produces the same antibody response, how it reacts to the vaccine, and modelling the new strain.

It could take up to two weeks for this process to be complete.  

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