Five day relaxation of rules over Christmas cancelled amid rise in coronavirus cases
The five day relaxation of rules over Christmas has been cancelled with three households now only able to meet on Christmas Day itself.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement during a press conference today (Saturday, December 19), amid a rise in coronavirus cases and growing concern about a new variant of the virus which spreads more quickly.
A new tier 4 is also being introduced from tomorrow for London, the South East and East of England, "broadly equivalent to the previous lockdown" in which non-essential shops and gyms will have to close and people in that area will not be able to see other households at all for Christmas.
Mr Johnson said the tiers would continue to regularly be reviewed.
The Cabinet met this lunchtime to discuss the mutation of the virus and the troubling increase in infection rates, both in Kent and beyond, just days before the previously expected easing of restrictions for the Christmas holidays.
Mr Johnson had long wished to avoid dashing people's hopes of family gatherings during the festive season, but his hand has been forced by spiralling case rates and the emergence of the new strain of the virus.
He said: "We have to act to protect the public.
"I want to stress this is a race and we are still do our absolute level best to protect the public whilst we know that the vaccine is arriving.
"I'm very confident, more confident than ever, that we'll get that vaccine into a significant proportion of the population by the spring and that things will be radically different for our country by Easter. I'm absolutely convinced of that and although this is unquestionably a difficult moment in the campaign against this virus, that fundamental reason for optimism remains unchanged."
Earlier England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, confirmed the newly-identified mutation of the virus does appear to be spreading faster that previous strains, and work is ongoing to assess its danger to those infected.
He said: "There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this.
"Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission."