The mutant strain of Covid is ‘out of control’ and the millions of people now in tier 4 restrictions should act like they have it, Matt Hancock has said.
The Health Secretary urged Brits to reduce their social contact after Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions of people across the UK.
In England, 18 million people in London, south-eastern and eastern England have entered a new two-week lockdown.
The Prime Minister said people should ‘lift a glass to those who aren’t there’, knowing that celebrating Christmas apart this year meant there would be ‘a better chance that they’ll be there next year’.
Under the new Tier 4 rules non-essential shops – as well as gyms, cinemas, casinos and hairdressers – have to stay shut and people are limited to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
Those in Tier 4 were told they should not travel out of the region, while those outside were advised against visiting.
In the rest of England, Christmas easing has been severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned.
Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas ‘bubbles’ to a single day, while people in Northern Ireland have been asked to consider forming a bubble for Christmas Day only.
Wales has also mirrored the Tier 4 restrictions in England by bringing forward alert level four measures to Sunday, while Scotland has said its travel ban with the rest of the UK will now remain in place right throughout the festive period.
The new regulations creating a Tier 4 in England came into force at 7am on Sunday and will be laid before Parliament, which is in recess, on Monday.
The statutory instrument was made at 6am on Sunday, and must be approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords within 28 days, otherwise the change to the law is reversed as per a process known as the ‘made affirmative procedure’.
At a No 10 news conference on Saturday, Mr Johnson said he was taking the actions with a ‘heavy heart’, but the scientific evidence – suggesting the new strain was up to 70% more transmissible than the original variant – had left him with no choice.
‘Without action the evidence suggests that infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives,’ he said.
‘Yes Christmas this year will be different, very different. We’re sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas so that we have a better chance of protecting their lives, so that we can see them at future Christmases.’
The announcements prompted a rush to the London train stations and by 7pm on Saturday, there were no tickets available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.
Footage posted on social media showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.
The announcements came as a hammer blow to many businesses – particularly retailers hoping to pick up some pre-Christmas sales at the end of a torrid year in which they had faced repeated orders to close.
There was also fury among some Conservative MPs after weeks of growing backbench unrest over the return of more and more stringent controls.
Mark Harper, the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, demanded the recall of Parliament so MPs could debate and vote on the changes for England.
‘Given the three-tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Sir Charles Walker, the vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘Given that the Prime Minister is not going to resign, perhaps it is time for Matt Hancock to consider his position.’
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