Millions more people will wake up to harsher coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day when new tier changes come into force in England.
Around six million more people in east and south-east England have been plunged into the strictest tier four level, which includes a ‘Stay at home’ order.
It comes after the official UK coronavirus death toll passed 70,000 on Christmas Day, when a further 570 deaths were announced.
The tougher measures – which mean the closure of all non-essential shops, gyms and hairdressers – now apply to around 24 million people in England, about 43% of the population.
New lockdowns are also set to be introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland from today, while restrictions that were eased for Christmas Day in Wales will be re-imposed.
The crackdown comes against a backdrop of increasing infections, hospital admissions and a new more contagious variant in the UK which was announced last week.
Areas moving to tier four are Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex not yet in the highest tier, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest.
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire, as well as Cheshire and Warrington, have all moved up to tier three.
Mainland Scotland will enter Level four restrictions from Saturday, with the Scottish Government intending the increased measures to last for three weeks.
In Northern Ireland, the first week measures are the toughest yet, with a form of curfew in operation from 8pm, shops closed from that time and all indoor and outdoor gatherings prohibited until 6am.
Non-essential retail will close throughout the next six weeks, as will close-contact services, while hospitality outlets will be limited to takeaway services.
Amid the worsening crisis, the Queen delivered a heartfelt message of hope to the country, praising the ‘indomitable spirit’ of those who have risen ‘magnificently’ to the challenges of the pandemic.
In her annual televised Christmas speech, the monarch paid tribute to the ‘kindness of strangers’ whose actions have inspired all and, sounding a positive note, said even the ‘darkest nights’ have a promise of a ‘new dawn’.
The appearance of the new coronavirus variant in England triggered travel curbs with dozens of countries.
France closed its border but ended the ban on Wednesday providing people test negative before travelling.
It caused chaos at the Port of Dover, where thousands of lorry drivers remain stranded as work to clear the backlog continues to make slow progress.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said more than 10,000 tests have been carried out on drivers waiting to cross the English Channel, of which 24 returned a positive result.
Some 1,100 military personnel have been deployed in Kent to help carry out coronavirus tests, hand out food and organise welfare facilities.
Despite the travel ban, France confirmed yesterday that the highly infectious new UK variant of the virus has landed on its shore. It has also been detected in Ireland and Japan, among other countries.
On Wednesday Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed another new coronavirus variant from South Africa had been detected in the UK.
It is thought the new restrictions could be in place for months while the UK ramps up efforts to vaccinate the most vulnerable adults.
Mr Hancock said: ‘This Christmas and the start of 2021 is going to be tough. The new variant makes everything much harder because it spreads so much faster.
‘But we mustn’t give up now, we know that we can control this virus, we know we can get through this together, we’re going to get through it by suppressing the virus until a vaccine can make us safe.’
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