MILLIONS more people will be waking up to harsher coronavirus restrictions when new tier changes come into force in England.
Those in the strict Tier 4 in England will increase by six million to 24 million people -43 per cent of the population – in a bid to stop the spread of the mutant Covid.
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Full list of places changing tiers
Tier 3 – 4
Waverley in Surrey
Hampshire (apart from the New Forest) Portsmouth, Southampton.
Tier 2 – 3
Somerset including N Somerset
Isle of Wight
Tier 1 to 2
Areas moving to Tier 4 are Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex not yet in the highest tier, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest.
It comes after the Government said a further 570 died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus as of Christmas Day, while there were a further 32,725 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
The Queen delivered a heartfelt message of hope to the country in her Christmas address, praising the "indomitable spirit" of those who have risen "magnificently" to the challenges of the pandemic.
The move to place more people under tighter restrictions comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock also announced an even MORE infectious new South African strain has been found in the UK.
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Northamptonshire will go into Tier 3 too, and Cornwall and Hereforshire will be bumped up from Tier 1 to 2.
In Tier 3 there will now be 25million people – 44.4 per cent of the country.
Mr Hancock said: "We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for.
"We have learnt that when it becomes a matter of when, it is better to act sooner."
SOUTH AFRICA STRAIN
He said Tier 3 hadn't worked to keep the new variant under control, and more places had to be shoved into Tier 4.
"Tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant. This is not a hypothesis, this is a fact," he added.
"Just as we had got a tiered system in place that was able to control this virus we have discovered a new, more contagious virus – a variant that is spreading at a dangerous rate."
Immediate action was taken as a result of hospital admissions and cases soaring over the past week across England, he said.
Mainland Scotland will enter Level 4 restrictions from Saturday, with the Scottish Government intending the increased measures to last for three weeks.
In Northern Ireland, the first week measures are the toughest yet, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.
Non-essential retail will close throughout the next six weeks, as will close-contact services, while hospitality outlets will be limited to takeaway services.
Cases are up 57 per cent across the UK in just a week, thanks to the increased spread.
Britain is very near to the peak of people in hospital seen in April – which could have a knock on effect on people trying to get other types of treatment.
At a gloomy press conference, Mr Hancock said: "This Christmas and the start of 2021 is going to be tough. The new variant makes everything much harder because it spreads so much faster.
"But we mustn't give up now, we know that we can control this virus, we know we can get through this together, we're going to get through it by suppressing the virus until a vaccine can make us safe."
He added: "I believe that everybody will do what is needed to keep themselves and others safe, especially this Christmas, and I know from the bottom of my heart that there are brighter skies ahead."
And he stressed it was the "personal responsibility" of everyone to crack down on their social contact, adding: "It's actually by all of our actions collectively that we get this under control."
The Health Secretary also revealed the grave news that an "even more transmissible" mutant strain of Covid which originated in South Africa has been detected in the UK.
Scientists have found two cases in the UK who were contacts of people who had recently been there.
Anyone coming back to the UK from South Africa, who has arrived in the last fortnight, or their contacts, will be ordered by law to quarantine for two weeks, effectively immediately.
Mr Hancock continued: "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."
The new variant of the virus — known as 501.V2 — is now making up about 80 to 90 per cent of new cases in Africa’s most industrialised nation.
Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said the two strains were "very different" but "both are more transmissable" and needs to be "continually monitored".
And Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries added: "we expect viruses to mutate so it's not a surprise…but all basic measures – including tiers – should prevent the spread."
On Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed a positive test for the variant that was first recognised in the UK.
What do we know about the new South Afria Covid strain?
- The variant is different from the British strain that is spreading rapidly, but is also believed to be highly infectious
- The new South African variant has been traced to Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, which was the first major urban area to be hit by the country’s second wave
- Although the new variant is highly-transmissible, experts are unclear whether it is more deadly
- Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Sudan, Mauritius, Turkey and El Salvador have banned incoming flights from South Africa
The decisions were made this morning at a crunch Covid Operations meeting with top ministers in Whitehall.
Tier 4 restrictions include a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors and force the closure of many shops, hairdressers and gyms.
The measures come on top of Tier 3 restrictions such as the closure of pubs and restaurants except for takeaways and deliveries.
The Tier review was due to take place on December 30, but fears the mutant strain is now “everywhere” meant the decisions today were brought forward.
Professor of Operational Research at University College London Christina Pagel told Times Radio this morning that ministers need to place the whole of England in Tier 4 today.
She warned: "Things are getting rapidly worse….We are in an incredibly dangerous situation…
"We can't afford to wait for confirmation, because it is just rising so so rapidly… Tier 4 kind of sits in a sea of tier 2. Cases in those tier 2 areas have doubled in the last week. So it's seriously out of control there.
"If we just wait and we let it spread to the North, where things are much more under control, then the whole country is on fire and I just feel like we have to stop it now and protect the North from the South."
She added that waiting for Boxing Day would be "too slow and it's too reactive."
Which Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas have the highest infection rates?
Places in Tier 2 and Tier 3 with the highest infection rates:
Burnley, Tier 3: 438 cases per 100,000
Lincoln, Tier 3: 409 cases per 100,000
Boston, Tier 3: 406 cases per 100,000
Rushmoor, Tier 2: 378 cases per 100,000
Stoke-on-Trent, Tier 3: 341 cases per 100,000
Pendle, Tier 3: 338 cases per 100,000
Rugby, Tier 3: 337 cases per 100,000
East Staffordshire, Tier 3: 331 cases per 100,000
West Lindsey, Tier 3: 323 cases per 100,000
Wealden, Tier 2: 323 cases per 100,000
Uttlesford, Tier 2: 313 cases per 100,000
Wolverhampton, Tier 3: 300 cases per 100,000
Places in Tier 4 with the lowest infection rates:
Gosport: 159 cases per 100,000
Chiltern: 202 cases per 100,000
North Hertfordshire: 232 cases per 100,000
Welwyn Hatfield: 248 cases per 100,000
Mole Valley: 255 cases per 100,000
Guildford: 260 cases per 100,000
Windsor and Maidenhead: 273 cases per 100,000
Dacorum: 277 cases per 100,000
West Berkshire: 278 cases per 100,000
Wokingham: 300 cases per 100,000
East Hertfordshire: 305 cases per 100,000
Stevenage: 312 cases per 100,000
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