The sudden spread new variant of Covid-19 has forced UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to make changes to the holiday period restrictions.
In a public briefing on December 19, 2020, the PM introduced a new Tier 4 Lockdown with very tight rules to avoid the further spread of the virus.
The lockdown will be effective from 20th December 2020, midnight.
The Tier 4 Lockdown will be imposed in Bedfordshire, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverly), Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Hastings and Rother.
It will also apply in all of London’s 32 boroughs and the city of London.
Places in East of England like Bedford, Central Bedford, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton will also be under Tier 4 restrictions.
Most of these areas of the country were earlier under Tier 3.
This announcement changes the existing Covid-19 relaxations that had been decided earlier for the Christmas season.
The earlier planned relaxation of Covid rules for Christmas festivities was for a 5 day period.
It has now been scrapped completely for areas under Tier 4.
Tier 4 & New Restrictions
PM Johnson announced these changes after a meeting with scientists, Covid Operations Committee and the Cabinet.
Due to a rapidly spreading new variant of Covid-19 in Tier 4 areas, the new measures needed to be introduced.
The areas entering Tier 4, will be broadly equivalent to the national restrictions which were in place in England in November 2020.
For Tier 4, key restrictions announced include:
- People living in Tier 4 areas will not be allowed to mingle with people outside of their household
- People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas
- Support bubbles will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation
- Tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home
- Non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services must close
- Travelling to and from Tier 4 areas is also prohibited, except for work or educational purposes
- People in tier 4 areas will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as for work purposes
- People must work from home if they can, but may travel to work if this is not possible, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors
- Only two people from two different households are allowed to meet in a public space
- Communal worship can continue to take place in tier 4 areas
In addition to these Boris Johnson stated:
“Although the new variant is concentrated in tier 4 areas, it is nonetheless present at lower levels around the country.
Therefore, he emphasised advice on travel, especially for the festive period:
“We are asking everyone, in all tiers, to stay local.
“People should carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad and follow the rules in their tier.”
The Prime Minister spoke earnestly about taking away people’s most beloved festival, Christmas, away from them.
“I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren, and for families to be together.
“As your Prime Minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.
“We are working closely with the developed administration to protect people in every part of the UK.”
“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence.”
In the rest of England, Wales and Scotland, the five day relaxation period has been also been reduced to just Christmas day.
Post-Christmas, Scotland and Wales would be put under rigorous regulations to control the spread of the virus.
However, Northern Ireland will let three households meet from 23 to 27 December. They will enforce a 6-week lockdown from 26 December 2020.
Downing Street’s advisory group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) has been studying the new variant of coronavirus for the last few days.
Their analysis so far suggests that the new variant could increase R by 0.4 or more.
This new strain could also be 70% more transmissible than the existing variant. Therefore, “it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.”
However, officials say no current evidence exists to suggest that the new variant causes a higher mortality rate.
There is no data either on the variant regarding how effective vaccines and treatments will be against it.
“Of course, there is now hope-real hope-that we will soon be rid of this virus.
“The UK was the first country in the western world to start using a clinically approved vaccine.
“..if the NHS contacts you then get your vaccine-and join the 350,000 people across the UK who have already had their first dose.”
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said:
“I think this is a situation which is going to make things a lot worse, but there are some really optimistic things if you look once we get the vaccine out, assuming the vaccine works against this, which at the moment is the working assumption.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) are in dialogue with UK officials regarding the new variant.
In a tweet, WHO said:
“We’re in close contact with UK officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant. They’ll continue to share info & results of their analysis & ongoing studies. We’ll update Member States & public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant & any implications.”
PM Johnson urged the people to take this as a positive step so that people can celebrate more Christmases together in the future.
“This is early data. It is subject to review. It is the best we have at the moment, and we have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast.
“The U.K. has by far the best genomic sequencing ability in the world, which means we are better able to identify new strains like this than any other country.
“Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding of the variant.
“So we are learning more about this variant as we go.
“But we know enough already to be sure that we must act now.”
With the determination to beat the virus, PM closed his speech saying:
“As sure as night follows day, we will beat back this virus.
“We will defeat it.”
Review of Restrictions
The tier 4 restrictions and other lockdown restrictions will remain subject to a regular review.
The PM also warned the people not to flout the rules on New Year’s Eve, December 31 2020, New Year as the restrictions would continue.
All tiers will continue to be regularly reviewed in line with the approach previously set out, with the next formal review point taking place on 30 December.
The UK is not alone in changing its restrictions over the festive period.
For most of Christmas and the New Year, Italy has imposed a national lockdown. the country is going to be under “red-zone” restrictions.
Germany and The Netherlands are enforcing lockdowns until January 2021. However, over Christmas, Germany is allowing one household to mix with four other family members.
As the new variant increases in its spread, the UK government, albeit to the disappointment of the British public, has had to make a tough decision for the Christmas period.
It’s hoped, that the latest announcement will help reduce the impact of the pandemic which more or less wiped out the year 2020 in terms of normality.