London and south of England to enter new 'Tier 4 ' as Christmas easing cancelled
The new rules will affect all areas currently in Tier 3 – including London and swathes of the South East, impacting around a third of England’s population.
It comes as a new variant of Covid-19 identified in the South East of England was found to be spreading more rapidly than previously thought.
There is no suggestion this variant is more deadly or will be less responsive to a vaccine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson held urgent talks with advisors about the new strain on Friday night.
Leaders of the four nations attended an emergency call on Saturday afternoon, followed by each leader entering discussions with their own cabinet.
Nicola Sturgeon will make an announcement on measures in Scotland at 5.30pm on Saturday.
The restrictions are similar to previous strict lockdowns in England, with people told to stay at home and work from home if possible.
Non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities in these areas will close.
Those in Tier 4 will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from “limited exceptions”, for example work purposes.
The five-day Christmas exemption period in Tier 4 has been cancelled, but those in support bubbles are exempted.
"We must, I'm afraid, look again at Christmas and as prime minister it's my duty to take difficult decisions to do what is right, to protect the people of this country,” Mr Johnson said.
"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus and the potential risk it poses, it is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.
"In England, those living in Tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though support bubbles will remain in place for those a particular risk of loneliness or isolation.
“Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out.
"As before, there will be no relaxation on the 31st of January, so people must not break the rules at New Year."
Boris Johnson said the new variant may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previously known strains.
“Our advisers on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) have spent the last few days analysing this new variant – there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality but it does appear to be passed on significantly more quickly,” he said.
But some said the new variant could not wholly be to blame.
Shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Alin-Khan said: “Christmas plans are ruined for families up and down the country because of Government neglect, incompetence and an inability to get on top of this virus.
“Dither and delay has cost lives with more to come. The mental health implications of this will be tragic."