Covid-19: Twenty million in England added to toughest level of restrictions

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LONDON: A further 20 million people in England will join the toughest tier of Covid restrictions from Thursday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs the Midlands, North East, parts of the North West and parts of the South West are among those escalated to tier four, BBC has reported.

Earlier, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK, with the first doses to be given on Monday. And the education secretary said his plan for schools to return next week required an “immediate adjustment”.

But the PM Boris Johnson has warned that people should not “in any way think that this is over” as “the virus is really surging”.

A further 50,023 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK on Wednesday, as well as 981 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test – more than double Tuesday’s total.

Under tier four rules, non-essential shops, beauty salons and hairdressers must close, and people are limited to meeting in a public outdoor place with their household, or one other person.

Mr Hancock also said that rising cases across England mean it is “therefore necessary to apply tier three measures more broadly too, including in Liverpool and North Yorkshire”.

In tier three areas, household mixing is banned indoors and in private gardens, while the rule of six applies in public spaces. Shops, gyms and personal care services can remain open, but hospitality settings must close except for takeaway.

All of the tier changes will come into effect at 00:01 GMT on Thursday 31 December.

Speaking to the BBC earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that 60% of UK coronavirus cases were now the new, more transmissible, strain of Covid-19.

Asked by political editor Laura Kuenssberg if the government had been too slow to act, he said: “What we, unfortunately, were not able to budget for was this this new variant.”

He added: “It’s spreading rapidly from the places where it’s started, in the east of London and in Kent. And, alas, it’s starting to seed across the country.”