The UK has entered a period of intense restrictions after a coronavirus mutation was discovered to be spreading rapidly in the population of London and the south east and east of England. Most of the country is strictly closed before Christmas, and several countries across Europe have banned travel from the UK
The British government has classified several parts of England in so-called “Tier 4” restrictions after the rise in infections. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new restrictions on Saturday.
“Given the early evidence we have of this new variant of the virus – the potential risk it poses – I have to tell you with a very heavy heart that we cannot continue Christmas as planned,” Johnson said. “In England, those living in Tier 4 areas shouldn’t mingle with anyone outside their own household for Christmas.”
The new restrictions are largely similar to the November national restrictions. Residents of the affected areas can only leave their homes for important trips. Retail stores that were not absolutely essential, as well as gyms, cinemas and hairdressers had to be closed. If people want to spend time with people outside their home, it can only be one person at a time, and it has to be outside. (One difference from the November restrictions is that the community service can still take place.)
Although the new variant of coronavirus is most prevalent in Tier 4 areas, it also exists at lower levels across the country, according to Johnson. For now, Johnson said, people across the country are being encouraged to “stay there.”
Outside the Tier 4 areas, up to eight people from three households can meet – but only on Christmas Day and not over a period of five days, as was the case according to previous guidelines.
Ahead of the new rules, videos popped up on social media showing thousands of Londoners standing in crowded train stations ready to leave the city. The trains were “full,” said a reporter saidand social distancing was not possible.
“There were these scenes outside the train stations in London – especially at St Pancras station – where thousands of people fled London,” said Frank Langfitt of NPR Weekend edition. “It was clear that they were trying to go on family vacations to travel to other parts of the country where there are fewer restrictions.”
Transit officers have announced that they will deploy more officers at train stations to stop unnecessary journeys and put more police officers on the streets to prevent people from leaving restricted areas, Langfitt said.
Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have all banned flights and travel from the UK, the BBC reported. The European Union will meet on Monday to discuss a coordinated response.
The new mutation could be up to 70% more transmissible than previous variants of the virus, Public Health England’s Susan Hopkins told the BBC. This variant was first identified in mid-October from a sample taken in September, Hopkins said.
“At the beginning of December we tried to understand why [cases in] Kent and Medway continued to gain weight despite national restrictions. We found a cluster that was growing very quickly. “
It was only this week that researchers realized that the variant was more transmissible than other variants, Hopkins said. They alerted the government on Friday and the new restrictions were announced the next day.
While the new variant appears to be more contagious, there is no evidence that it leads to a more serious illness, according to Vivek Murthy, whom President-elect Joe Biden has announced as his candidate for US surgeon-general. “There is no reason to believe that the vaccines developed will not be effective against this virus,” Murthy said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Ronald Klain, Biden’s new Chief of Staff, told CBS’s Face the Nation that the president-elect will be informed of the new variant “early next week”. The U.S. government could make changes to its own pandemic restrictions on the advice of medical experts, Klain said.