Millions of people across southeast England will no longer be able to mix with other households at Christmas, with a new Tier 4 level of COVID restrictions – equivalent to a full lockdown – to come into force tomorrow.
In a dramatic move, prompted by fears over a new strain of coronavirus, all of those areas currently in Tier 3 in the South East – including London – will move to the new Tier 4 on Sunday.
And, in further stark action across the rest of England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the planned five-day easing of restrictions over the festive period will now be limited to a single day.
“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,” he said at a Downing Street news conference on Saturday.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that the country’s own strict Tier 4 measures would come into force from midnight tonight – more than a week earlier than planned – while households across Wales will now only be able to form a Christmas bubble with one other household on Christmas Day itself.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told her own news conference on Saturday that the country would be placed into Level 4 rules from Boxing Day, with the easing of restrictions on indoor household mixing now only to apply on Christmas Day.
She also announced a “strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK”.
Northern Ireland was already set to enter a six-week lockdown from Boxing Day.
The UK government announced a further 27,052 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the UK on Saturday, with 534 more people having died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
The new Tier 4 measures in southeast England will see all non-essential shops, gyms, and hairdressers close, with people ordered to stay home apart from limited exceptions such as work – if people cannot work from home – education, childcare and exercise.
However, communal worship will be allowed to continue under the toughened restrictions.
Mr Johnson ditched his previous plans for a five-day relaxation of COVID rules over Christmas and told people in Tier 4 areas they will no longer be allowed to form “Christmas bubbles” with other households.
Meanwhile, outside of the South East, people will still be allowed to mix in private homes with up to two other households, but now only on Christmas Day.
“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence,” Mr Johnson said.
“As your prime minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.”