BORIS Johnson provoked fury by cancelling Christmas for nearly 20million people last night in a bid to halt a rampant mutant strain of coronavirus.
The PM slapped draconian new Tier 4 measures on London, the South East and East of England, admitting “bitter regret” at axing family get-togethers.
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The areas in the new Tier 4 from tonight at midnight
Surrey (excluding Waverley)
The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings
All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.
Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough
Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
The new strain is 70 per cent more contagious and on the brink of overwhelming hospitals in the worst-hit areas.
Mr Johnson told 18million people they must "sacrifice" Christmas this year.
Travel and mixing households are banned from today under the new highest level resctrictions – with families elsewhere only allowed to form Christmas bubbles for one day on December 25 itself.
The drastic move will dash families' hopes of Christmas together after a torrid year and force millions of people to stay home for weeks to come.
Almost 18million people live in the new Tier 4 areas – with restrictions similar to the second national lockdown in November,
Mr Johnson said the tough crackdown will help save lives as a new mutant strain of coronavirus which is 70 per cent more contagious sweeps through the south of England.
He said: "Yes, Christmas this year will be very different, but we must be realistic.
"We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases. "
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon introduced a travel ban to other parts of the UK and announced a brutal three week lockdown from Boxing Day.
The First Minister said 17 cases of the new mutant strain of Covid has been identified north of the border.
Wales will also go into lockdown today while Northern Ireland will enter a six-week shutdown on December 26.
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- Boris Johnson today cancelled Christmas for millions as he put London, the South East and East in Tier 4 lockdown
- A new mutant strain of Covid-19 is becoming the "dominant variant" of the disease and may be up to 70% more contagious
- All Brits have been told to stay local during the festive season
- Christmas bubbles in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 have been cut to just 24 hours on December 25
- Non-essential shops and gyms in Tier 4 areas must be closed from midnight
- Those in Tier 4 will be able to meet only one other person outdoors – but must not stay overnight from home
- Wales will go into lockdown from tonight and people can 'bubble' for Christmas day only
- Scotland banned travel from the rest of the UK to stop the new strain spreading and will go into the toughest lockdown measures on Boxing Day
In England, the PM warned the nation he could not ignore the terrifying new strain and vowed: "We have to act to protect the public."
Mr Johnson said: "As Prime Minister, it is my duty to take the difficult decisions, to do what is right to protect the people of this country.
"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.
"I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me."
He said people would be "disappointed" but vowed he was following the science as a result of the new rapidly-spreading strain.
The PM said he "bitterly regretted" cancelling holidays for millions of people. The new restrictions would be reviewed again on December 30.
People throughout England are advised to "stay local" and avoid overseas travel, while those in Tier 4 will only be able to go abroad for essential business.
There were 27,000 positive Covid-19 cases recorded today, the latest stats showed.
The PM had insisted just five days ago that Christmas will still go ahead for families – and it would be "inhuman" to cancel it.
The PM’s announcement was savaged by senior Tories.
A senior Government source said: “It’s f*****g grim and f*****g bleak”.
And a former minister said: “Banning Christmas will be the final straw for many voters.
“If Boris has got this wrong then no one will forgive him.”
MPs will be fuming as the new lockdown will be done via emergency laws – and immediately they demanded a new vote on the tougher measures.
But the Commons started its Christmas break on Thursday evening – and politicians won't go back until January unless there's a Brexit deal to vote on when they will be recalled.
Mr Johnson said today "there will be a chance for parliament to consider them" but it won't be for weeks to come.
Mark Harper MP, Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said this evening: "This is a very sad day. Lockdowns and increasingly severe tiered restrictions have failed in their goal of slowing the transmission of Covid.
"And now the Government is expecting people to sacrifice the chance to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, just a few days after promising the opposite.
LET US VOTE
“If the Government wants the support of the public and Parliament, it must publish a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish, cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.
“More immediately, given the 3 tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House.”
US President Donald Trump slammed the UK shutdown, tweeting: "We don’t want to have lockdowns. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself!"
The draconian move comes in response to a new mutant strain of the coronavirus, which was identified in the South East back in September, which is now spreading throughout Britain.
Sir Patrick Vallance said the new strain has become “the dominant variant” of Covid because it spreads up to 70 per cent faster – a fact which has spooked health bosses.
But the new breed of the disease is not believed to be more deadly or cause any worse illness and should still be affected by the vaccine, the experts have said.
What are the new Tier 4 rules?
Tier 4 will include:
- The Tier 4 will be similar to the November lockdown – with all but essential shops closed
- The “stay at home” message is expected to be law
- The plan to allow Brits to form social bubbles over five days will be ditched, with only those in Tiers 1 to 3 allowed to form a bubble on Christmas Day itself
- International travel abroad is not advised – but won't be banned
- People should not enter or leave Tier 4
- People can only meet one person from another household in an outside space
- They won't be reviewed until 30 December – after Christmas
- Support bubbles will be still allowed
- Weddings will be banned except for extreme cases – like those who are terminally ill
Sir Patrick said: This new variant not only moves fast but it is becoming the dominant variant.
"It is beating all the others in terms of transmission."
He said the "working assumption " of scientists was that the vaccines that had been developed should be able to deal with it.
The Government's Scientific Advisory Group (Sage) warned that without action the new strain could add 0.4 to the R number – representing the reproduction rate – which was already estimated at 1.1. to 1.2.
And Professor Chris Whitty begged people not to flee the capital tonight, saying: "If you have packed a bag, unpack it."
But he stressed a message of hope for the future as it was revealed that 350,000 people across the UK have been vaccinated now.
Deaths are lower than at the height of the first wave, with better treatments and more knowledge of the virus, he said.
The Prime Minister added: "There is now hope – real hope – that we will soon be rid of this virus. That prospect is growing with every day that passes and every vaccine dose administered.
"As sure as night follows day, we will beat back this virus. We will defeat it. And we will reclaim our lives."
What is the new Covid strain?
It has been named VUI – 202012/01 – the first variant under investigation in December.
It was first identified in September, according to scientists at COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), who have been working with Public Health England (PHE).
Government scientists at PHE's Porton Down lab are analysing the strain "right now", Mr Hancock said.
The new strain is 70 per cent more contagious, Professor Whitty said today.
And it's fast becoming the dominant strain across the UK, he added.
They think the strain may have started in the UK but scientists aren't sure.
In the south east 43 per cent of the virus is this new variant, in east England 57 per cent, and London 62 per cent.
How dangerous is it?
Despite warnings that the new strain is fuelling the spread of coronavirus, experts have said there is no evidence it's more dangerous.
Alan McNally, Professor in Microbial Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC: "Let's not be hysterical. It doesn't mean it's more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous.
"It is something to keep an eye on."
He added: "It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time".
Boris said today it will still likely be affected by the vaccine, and there is no evidence people will be more sick or likely to die.
He said that while there was no evidence the new strain is more lethal, urgent work was underway to investigate it.
Prof Whitty said today the new variant – known as VUI 2020/01 – had been around since early September.
He said: "If you have a high rate of this variant then it is not held by the tiers.
"Our big worry is that it’s going up in terms of percentage of where it is.
"We are really keen that people do not go from these areas.. this is a bad moment."
It was revealed that the new strain, known as VUI-2020/12/01, is responsible for 62 per cent of cases in London, up from 28 per cent last month.
It accounts for 59 per cent of cases in the East of England and 43 per cent in the South East.
And there are fears people are catching the virus despite wearing PPE and socially distancing.
A health source said: “The last 48 hours have changed everything.”
It could be weeks until it is known just how dangerous the new breed of Covid-19 could be.
Meanwhile, stats released yesterday show those living with Covid in England have risen by almost a fifth in a week.
The ONS said 567,300 people had the bug between December 6 and 12 — equal to one person in 95. The latest reproduction R number is now between 1.1 and 1.2.
But the public do appear to be listening to the Government — as official figures show only half of Brits are planning to form a festive bubble.
That includes 26 per cent saying they plan to visit family and friends but not stay overnight compared with 52 per cent last year.
DRACONIAN TIER 4
Only four per cent plan to meet in restaurants, cafes or bars compared with 44 per cent last year.
The PM is still coming under fire from Tories and hospitality chiefs, who want measures lifted as soon as possible, plus gloomy scientists who predict more lockdowns.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said people should consider postponing Christmas socialising until Easter.
And Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to March’s first lockdown, suggested a more severe third national lockdown may be needed.
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Prof John Edmunds, of the Sage science advisory body, warned: “Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the tier system is holding back the epidemic wave. We are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them.”
Documents newly released by Sage say avoiding social contacts for more than five days before meeting older or vulnerable people at Christmas will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
A longer period of a week or more would reduce the risk even further. A document dated November 26 says taking a rapid Covid test before a multi-day gathering inside a home could also reduce risk.
The Sun Says
MILLIONS of Brits will be rightly furious that their Christmas has been cancelled.
Just days ago, Boris Johnson vowed to maintain the Christmas bubbles over the festive season because it would be “inhuman” to axe them.
But by plunging London and much of the south east into a tough new tier 4, he has crushed hopes of festive reunions and wrecked costly plans made by hard-up families.
The Prime Minister has also split the country on Christmas Day. In some areas mixed groups will celebrate while yards away others will be barred from seeing loved ones.
This is the harshest and most heartbreaking decision Boris has made during a horrible year and it comes as a cruel blow to everyone hoping for a little merriment to lift the gloom.
He and his scientists are terrified by the new strain of the virus in the east of the country.
Of course Boris must act to save lives, and other parts of Europe are taking similar steps. But he cannot repeat the mistake he made in imposing the rushed second lockdown of seven weeks ago.
That followed forecasts of 4,000 deaths a day — figures which proved unreliable and were soon retracted.
Boris himself later felt he had been bounced into taking over-zealous measures that wrecked the economy.
It will be far worse if the new warnings prove wrong.
If this new strain has broken out in other countries, why can’t we have more details about how they coped?
Questions also need to be asked about the lack of hospital staff to cope with rising numbers of cases. Vacancies for nursing posts are at 36,655 and those for medical jobs are at 7,502.
As a result the £220million emergency Nightingale hospitals could be left idle — an appalling waste.
In the meantime hundreds more businesses will collapse and thousands will lose their jobs.
We understand why Boris feels he must take drastic steps to prevent another surge of Covid casualties.
But he cannot afford the scientific statistics to be wrong again.
The nation will never forgive a Prime Minister who cancelled Christmas on the basis of dodgy science.
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