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Watch: PM delivers drastic new lockdown rules for Christmas
Boris Johnson has dramatically cancelled Christmas for millions across London and the South East amid fears a new strain of the virus is taking hold and spreading more rapidly.
The rest of England will see the Christmas "bubble" policy - allowing up to three households to meet up over the holiday period - severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.
Speaking during a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister laid out a host of stricter measures, including a new Tier 4 lockdown that will come into force in London and across the South East England tomorrow morning.
He said that anyone in a Tier 4 area must not mix with people outside their household over Christmas.
Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks.
People will also be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
New strain of virus
It comes as the new variant of coronavirus is believed to be fuelling the increase in cases across the South East.
The Tier 4 restrictions will apply in all Tier 3 areas in the South East – covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It will also apply in London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London) and the East of England – Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
Exemptions to the “stay at home” message which applied in the November lockdown, will also apply in the new Tier 4 – including support bubbles, childcare bubbles and children whose parents are separated.
People will be allowed to travel for education, childcare and to go to work if they cannot work from home and they will be permitted unlimited outdoor exercise.
The Prime Minister advised people in all tiers to “stay local”, adding that everyone should “carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad”.
He also warned Brits that they also must not break the new restrictions over New Year.
Johnson said that as Prime Minster he believed there was “no alternative open to me”.
He said: “Without action the evidence suggests that infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.”
Johnson added: “Yes, Christmas this year will be different, very different. We’re sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas so that we have a better chance of protecting their loves, so that we can see them at future Christmases.
“And as sure as night follows day we will beat this virus, we’ll defeat it and reclaim our lives.”
The restrictions come as a major U-turn in the Government’s plans to relax the rules over the festive period.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister had stopped short of imposing tighter restrictions for the festive period, saying the four UK nations reached a “unanimous agreement” to continue as planned with the “Christmas bubble” policy.
But this latest development will likely throw many families’ holiday plans into disarray as Brits prepared to gather with their loved ones for Christmas.
Johnson told the press briefing: "I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.
"So I know how disappointing this will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.
"When the science changes, we must change our response."
Watch: New Covid variant ‘real cause for concern’
Johnson warned that the new variant of coronavirus could increase the T rate by 0.4 or more and could be 70% more transmissible.
But he also added that there is “no evidence” to suggest it can cause more severe illness.
Scientists on the Government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) have concluded that the mutant strain identified by Public Health England - known as VUI2020/01 - was spreading more quickly.
The Prime Minister was advised of the group's conclusions at a meeting with ministers on Friday evening, and the new regulations were signed off by the Cabinet in a conference call on Saturday lunchtime.
The Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has briefed the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the group's findings.
‘Unpack your bags’
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told the Downing Street press conference that people considering leaving Tier 4 areas now should unpack their bag and stay at home.
"My short answer would be 'please unpack it at this stage'," he said.
"If they were to go with this new variant, unwittingly, to an area that has a low prevalence and starts this being seeded even more outside the high prevalence areas that would be a significant risk to the area they went to.
"That is the reason we are really keen that people do not go from these areas."
He indicated that Tier 3 and Tier 2 restrictions had proven ineffective at controlling the new variant.
If the new variant spread "none of them would be able to hold things with Tier 3 and Tier 2 elsewhere".
Whitty said there had been a "really dramatic increase in the proportion of cases" seen with the new variant.
Screening tests suggested that in the South East 43% of the virus was now the new variant, in the East of England it is 59% and in London 62%.
"Those have gone up very, very fast over the last few weeks. This has really gone incredibly quickly. They are much lower in other areas of the country."
The number of people in hospitals was also increasing in areas where the new variant was more prevalent.
"In the areas where this is very, very common you are seeing rates of increase of maybe 36% in the East of England, 34% in London and 28% in the South East.
“These are the areas which have actually had significant numbers of this new variant.”
Watch: Christmas rules: What’s allowed during the festive season