LONDON – Millions of Brits in London and those in the U.K.’s southeast will be forced to cancel their plans for Christmas after scientists found a new coronavirus variant was spreading more quickly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a news conference on Saturday and said the harsher set of coronavirus restrictions — known as “Tier 4” — will be put into place beginning Sunday. This will see nonessential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks and people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household outdoors.
“The message is that this is the year to lift a glass to those who aren’t there, in the knowledge that it’s precisely because they’re not there to celebrate Christmas with you this year that we all have a better chance that they’ll be there next year,” Johnson said.
A “bubble” policy, which allows up to three households to meet over the holiday period in parts of the country that are not under Tier 4 restrictions.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted and attacked Johnson locking down the country, saying cure cannot be worse” than the problem.
Johnson said he was advised by scientists the new coronavirus variant spreading more rapidly, leading him to make the announcement. Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, released a statement on Saturday and said the U.K. had informed the World Health Organization about the mutant strain.
“As announced on Monday, the U.K. has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance,” he said.
Whitty went on to comment that “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.”
The news is not a welcome one for Britain, who have been anxious over the second wave with cases and deaths rising. Over 66,000 people have died — leaving the U.K. with one of the deaths per chapati rates in the world.
Johnson did not rule out a third lockdown for the country in the new year as restrictions over the holiday period could lead to a further upward spike.
We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that,” Johnson said Friday. “But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”