The Government is taking action after the emergence of a new, more contagious coronavirus strain, which most likely originated in Kent. An health official said: “Ministers have met today to assess what further action may be needed to address the rise in cases driven by the new variant.”
Fresh restrictions will probably come into effect on Boxing Day, with the whole of Essex, Sussex, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Hampshire likely to go into Tier 4, tweeted Times deputy political correspondent Steve Swinford.
Mr Swinford said he had not yet heard whether decisions had been made on Burnley, Lincolnshire and parts of Lancashire but that Birmingham would NOT be going into Tier 4.
The rate at which coronavirus is spreading has increased, adding to pressure on ministers to impose Tier 4 lockdowns on more parts of England.
The Cabinet’s Covid operations committee met today to consider the latest data on the spread of the virus.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick earlier acknowledged “it may be necessary to take further action” to curb rising case numbers.
Mr Hancock will be joined at the briefing by Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England and SAGE’s Jenny Harries.
The latest estimate of the R value, the average number of people someone with coronavirus infects, has increased to 1.1 to 1.3, up from 1.1 to 1.2 a week ago.
The number of new infections is growing by between one per cent and six percent every day, up from one percent to four percent last week.
The current tier levels in England had been due to be reviewed on December 30.
Mr Jenrick said if the plans needed to change due to the new variant “we won’t hesitate to do so”.
But later he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there will not be changes to the Christmas arrangements.
“We are not going to change people’s plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas,” he said, but “the strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe”.
Genomic researchers have found that the new variant, which is said to be 70 percent more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.
Scientists have consistently suggested warned that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on Christmas Day could lead to increased cases and, ultimately, deaths.
Speaking last week, Dr Kit Yates of the University of Bath, a member of the Independent SAGE advisory group, said: “Cases and hospital admissions are rising almost everywhere and deaths are beginning to rise as well.
“Add to that the impact of Christmas mixing and we have a recipe for a third peak which is significantly higher than the second.”
The identification of the new variant has prompted a number of countries to ban flights from the UK, while Emmanuel Macron’s France controversially blocked lorry drivers from crossing the Channel.
(More to follow)