Boris Johnson announces new restrictions for London, southeast England in bid to curb new COVID-19 strain

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty confirmed that a new COVID-19 strain which surfaced in the country could spread faster and called for greater public vigilance

Agence France-Presse December 19, 2020 23:57:13 IST
Boris Johnson announces new restrictions for London, southeast England in bid to curb new COVID-19 strain

Boris Johnson attended a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on Saturday. AFP

London: British prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a "stay at home" order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious.

Early data suggests the new strain could be "up to 70 percent more transmissible," Johnson said at a televised briefing.

He ordered new restrictions for London and south-eastern England from Sunday, saying that "residents in those areas must stay at home" at least until 30 December.

The aim of the new rules is to slow the spread of the new strain to areas where it is not yet prevalent.

The measures will mean around a third of England's population cannot travel or meet other households for Christmas.

It was a dramatic step-up after Johnson said last week that it would be "inhuman" to "cancel Christmas" by banning family gatherings, though he urged people to have small celebrations.

"It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Johnson told the nation.

"Alas when the facts change, you have to change your approach."

The announcement came as Britain has seen rising cases and hospital admissions this month.

"This virus has taken off, it's moving fast, and it's leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions," said Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser.

On Saturday there were 27,052 new cases in the UK, slightly less than on Friday.

Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, bowling alleys, casinos, hairdressers and nail bars will be closed in London and other affected regions, including Kent, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

Only one person from one household will be allowed to meet one person from another household in a public place, outside.

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty confirmed Saturday that a new coronavirus strain which surfaced in the country could spread faster and called for greater public vigilance to reduce transmission.

Whitty said London had informed the World Health Organization of its findings.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday said scientists had identified a "new variant" in the south of England that could be causing infections to spread faster.

Britain has seen rising cases and hospital admissions this month and Johnson was set to give a press conference on the virus situation on Saturday afternoon.

The prime minister was reportedly to announce new travel restrictions for London and southeast England in the run-up to Christmas.

"As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East (an expert body advising the government) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly," Whitty said.

"We have alerted the World Health Organization," he said, but added: 'There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this."

Whitty warned that the new evidence made it "more vital than ever" that the public did all they could to reduce transmission.

On Friday, 28,507 new daily positive tests were reported by the UK government. Cases last week grew 40.9 percent compared to a week earlier.

More than 1.98 million people have tested positive in the UK.

People in Wales and Northern Ireland are set go into new lockdowns after Christmas.

Johnson has refused to rule out a new lockdown in England, saying Friday: "We're hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that."

"But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks," he said.

 

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