Tier 4 lockdown may last for months as new Covid-19 strain ‘out of control’, 2 cases of more transmissible virus found

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LONDON: Millions more people in the east and south east of England are to enter tier 4 on Boxing Day, the health secretary has announced. The areas entering tier four include Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, Matt Hancock said.

Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest, and the parts of Essex and Surrey not already in the toughest restrictions will also enter tier four. Mr Hancock also told the Downing Street briefing a number of other areas will also move into higher tiers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Areas moving to tier three are: Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Cheshire and Warrington. Cornwall and Herefordshire will move into tier 2.

Matt Hancock suggested parts of England could remain under tough tier 4 coronavirus restrictions for months as the government admitted a new strain of the disease was now out of control.  

Hours after Boris Johnson cancelled the Christmas plans of millions of people, the number of daily recorded infections in the UK reached an all-time high of 35,928.  

As scientists warned the new variant could be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original virus, Mr Hancock also refused to rule out another round of school closures, although he said that was not currently the plan.  

The news of a new, highly infectious strain caused panic among Britain’s neighbours, leading countries including France, Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium closed their borders to travellers arriving from the UK.  

The health secretary also has announced two cases have been detected of another new strain of the coronavirus in the UK. Both were contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks, he said.

He said: “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”

Matt Hancock said that the UK has detected two cases of another “more transmissible” variant of coronavirus. Both people had travelled to South Africa, where the variant has been linked to a surge in cases.

Travel restrictions with South Africa have been imposed. Anyone who has travelled there in the past fortnight, and anyone they have been in contact with, are being told to quarantine immediately.