MILLIONS of Brits will have their Christmas cancelled with London, the South East and East to be moved into a new Tier 4 lockdown, it was reported today.
Travel and different households mixing will be banned under the new highest level tier – with families elsewhere only allowed to form ‘Christmas bubbles’ on December 25 itself, a leaked memo suggests.
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The drastic move comes after Boris Johnson has been locked in a string of emergency talks last night and today over how to stop the deadly bug from spreading.
Downing Street today confirmed the PM had hosted a cabinet call this afternoon.
He will later hold a press conference – said to be scheduled for 4pm – with the chief medical officer Chris Whitty and the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
But ahead of the public address, the Sunday Times Deputy Political Editor today tweeted the decision had been made to cancel Christmas for London, the South East and East, as areas are moved into new Tier 4.
It was further claimed the “stay at home” message would be law.
The plan to allow Brits to form social bubbles over five days is also expected to be thrown out, with only those in Tiers 1 to 3 allowed to form a bubble on Christmas Day itself.
International travel is not advised.
The decision comes after Boris last night sat down in an emergency meeting and given “alarming” new evidence over the new strain – as medics issued a chilling warning it is 50 per cent more contagious than previous Covid-19 cases.
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said the UK has informed the World Health Organisation that the new variant coronavirus can spread more rapidly.
He said while there was no evidence the new strain causes a higher mortality, urgent work was underway to investigate it.
Prof Whitty said: “Given this latest development, it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”
Last night a government source told The Sun: “What we do not know yet is whether the new strain is more or less likely to cause you harm, but what we have learnt is that it will pass to person to person much more easily and that is what we are really worried about.”
The new strain is blamed for a sudden surge in hospitalisations and The Sun understands evidence shows a dramatic hike in positive cases in London in the past week.
And there are fears people are catching the virus despite wearing PPE and socially distancing.
Other potential measures could see commuters banned from travelling into the capital.
A health source said: “The last 48 hours have changed everything.”
It could be weeks until it is known just how dangerous the new strain could be.
A Whitehall source said: “This is a fluid situation but it’s not looking good and we have to act fast.”
Boris has been trying to save Christmas, insisting Brits would be able to meet with their families thanks to the planned bubbles.
As a further 4.5million people — 38million in all — woke in Tier 3 restrictions today.
Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced a post-festive shutdown. But Boris had previously said he was “hoping very much that we’ll be able to avoid anything like that”.
But speaking on a tour of a telecoms training hub in Bolton, he admitted: “The reality is that infection rates have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
He urged the public to avoid spreading the deadly bug over Christmas and reiterated the three household bubble was a limit, not a target people should aim for.
Praising Brits, the PM said: “I think people really get this. All the evidence I’m seeing, people understand this is the time to look after our elderly relatives and avoid spreading the disease.
“Keep it short, keep it small, have yourselves a very little Christmas as I said the other night — that is, I’m afraid, the way through this year.
“Next year I’ve no doubt that as we roll out the vaccine it will be very different indeed.”
Stats released yesterday showed those living with Covid in England have risen by almost a fifth in a week.
DRACONIAN TIER 4
The ONS said 567,300 people had the bug between December 6 and 12 — equal to one person in 95. The latest reproduction R number is now between 1.1 and 1.2.
But the public do appear to be listening to the PM — as official figures show only half of Brits are planning to form a festive bubble.
That includes 26 per cent saying they plan to visit family and friends but not stay overnight compared with 52 per cent last year.
Only four per cent plan to meet in restaurants, cafes or bars compared with 44 per cent last year.
The PM is still coming under fire from Tories and hospitality chiefs, who want measures lifted as soon as possible, plus gloomy scientists who predict more lockdowns.
Meanwhile, fears are growing that a more draconian Tier 4 may be needed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is understood to be considering additional curbs if mass testing fails to make an impact.
A Whitehall official said: “There is a case for going further than Tier 3 and it is getting stronger — closure of non-essential retail, stay-at-home orders.
“That would have to be actively considered in conversation with a local authority.”
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said people should consider postponing Christmas socialising until Easter.
And Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to March’s first lockdown, suggested a more severe third national lockdown may be needed.
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Prof John Edmunds, of the Sage science advisory body, warned: “Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the tier system is holding back the epidemic wave. We are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them.”
Documents newly released by Sage say avoiding social contacts for more than five days before meeting older or vulnerable people at Christmas will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
A longer period of a week or more would reduce the risk even further. A document dated November 26 says taking a rapid Covid test before a multi-day gathering inside a home could also reduce risk.
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