Across England this week new restrictions will be implemented with the introduction of an additional tier four level in London and areas of the East and South-East to tackle a new mutated strand of the COVID-19 virus. The current tier three areas which will implement measures similar to the last national lockdown include
- Greater London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London)
- Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes)
- Kent, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley)
- Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)
These new restrictions, which were announced by the Prime Minister last Saturday, the 19th of December began from Sunday and will affect around 17 million people including those at Royal Holloway in the Egham and Englefield Green area. The announcement last weekend scrapped Boris Johnson’s plans to keep Christmas unaffected by more coronavirus restrictions. The Prime Minister stated in his address on Saturday night that “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.” The Prime Minister laid out the new features tier 4 areas would face explaining that “Residents in those areas must stay at home, apart from limited exemptions set out in law… People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home. Individuals can only meet one person from another household in an outdoor public space.” Further restrictions include the closure of non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services as well as travel bans.
In response to the governments U-turn on coronavirus Christmas plans, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took issue with “millions of families across the country are going to be heartbroken by this news having their Christmas plans ripped up and I’m very frustrated because I raised this with the Prime Minister on Wednesday and he dismissed that”.
These new measures imposed on London and areas of the South and South-East will be formally reviewed on the 30th December whilst the whole of Wales has entered another lockdown beginning from Sunday 20th of December and the whole of mainland Scotland will enter a Christmas lockdown beginning on Saturday 26th December.
- All non-essential retail must close
- Gyms, indoor swimming pools and other indoor leisure and exercise centres must close
- Anyone living in a tier four area will not be allowed to join support bubbles in tiers one, two or three
- People must not meet indoors, unless you are part of the same household or support bubble
- People should not travel in or out of tier 4 areas or venture abroad, unless for work and education where you cannot work from home
- People can meet one other person from another household but only on their own in a public space
- Outdoor exercise and leisure centres like swimming pools, playgrounds, sports courts and golf courses can stay open
Although the UK was the first country to approve the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with the initial 800,000 doses starting to be administered from Tuesday 8 December, a new strand of the virus had been recognised back in September and now accounts for nearly two-thirds of all cases in mid-December. This new strand has rapidly replaced the COVID-19 virus which brought England to a standstill back in March and its mutations affect the infectivity of the disease. Dr Erik Volz of Imperial College London has suggested that the new strand may be up to 70% more transmissible and initial published analysis of the strand identifies 17 potentially important alterations.
Despite the rapid spread of this new strand, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, has stated that it is “very unlikely” that the latest mutation will affect the current vaccines. The Covid-19 vaccination programme which began in the U.K. this month has focused upon the elderly, health workers, and carers with up to four million doses expected by the end of December.
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