London and South East could be trapped in Tier 4 for MONTHS until vaccine takes hold, Matt Hancock warns

LONDON and the South East could be trapped in Tier 4 for MONTHS until the vaccine takes hold, Matt Hancock warned today.

The Health Secretary this morning said it would be "very difficult" to keep the deadly bug under control without the vaccine having been widely administered after the new strain emerged.

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The new variant is believed to be about 70% more infectious than the initial strain.

And speaking to Sophie Ridge on Sunday, Mr Hancock today admitted "we have got a long way to go".

He said: "The cases in the Tier 4 areas have absolutely skyrocketed in the last few days, two weeks or so. We have got a long way to go to sort this.

"We've essentially got to get that vaccine."

And when pushed over whether Brits in Tier 4 areas would remain in lockdown into the new year – despite a review expected on December 30 – he added: "Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine."

It comes as…

  • Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions in a bid to halt the mutant strain of coronavirus
  • Thousands were pictured racing to flee the capital by road and rail before the lockdown came into force at midnight
  • Tier 4 restrictions were introduced meaning no social bubbles or travel over the festive period
  • Police said they would NOT be knocking on doors to check on families during Christmas
  • Brits were left furious as their plans were thrown into chaos

The Pfizer/BioNTechvaccine is currently being rolled out across the country with hopes the 25million vulnerable adults will be vaccinated by Easter.

The 40million doses of the vaccine are expected to be rolled out during the first half of next year and will be enough to vaccinate up to a third of the population.

It is also hoped Oxford/Astrazeneca will also be approved in the next few weeks.

But Brits were last night told their Christmas had been cancelled as Tier 4 was rolled out at midnight.

And Mr Hancock admitted it was an "awful end to an incredibly difficult year."

But he insisted the government needed to act after being presented with the scientific evidence over the new, more contagious strain.

Nearly 20million people were told their family get-togethers had to be axed with overnight stays banned under law.

The areas in the new Tier 4 from midnight

Kent
Buckinghamshire
Berkshire
Surrey (excluding Waverley)
The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings
All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.
Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough
Hertfordshire
Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).





And Mr Hancock defended the last minute decision to cancel Christmas for so many – saying "we need to stop this new variant from spreading."

He suggested the new strain had also been detected already in Australia and some parts of continental Europe.

But he said he was holding out hope for the vaccine, with 350,000 people already given the jab.

He said by the end of the weekend, he hoped that half a million people would have received the vaccination – with the speed of the rollout to continue to increase.

Boris Johnson last night said he had "bitter regret" over the new rules but said the new rules were necessary.

What is the new Covid strain?

MILLIONS of Brits have been plunged back into lockdown amid fears of a new high velocity strain of coronavirus.

The new strain of coronavirus is feared to be 70 per cent more contagious than the original Covid bug.

While there is no evidence currently to suggest that the new strain is more deadly, the "frighteningly transmissable" variation has meant the Christmas bubble has been burst.

It's thought the new strain – called VUI202012/01 – emerged in London and the South East as early as September, Sir Patrick Vallance said at a Downing Street briefing.

The high velocity mutant strain has seen Covid more than double in the last week, as data shows a sharp increase in hospital admissions across London and the South.

Boris Johnson said that it was thought the new strain could also see the R rate increase by 0.4

UK authorities have since alerted the World Health Organisation.

Travel and mixing households are banned from today under the new highest level restrictions – with families elsewhere only allowed to form Christmas bubbles for one day on December 25 itself.

Yet thousands were pictured fleeing the capital last night as London went into lockdown – with Mr Hancock blasting them as "totally irresponsible".

Mr Johnson said the tough crackdown will help save lives as a new mutant strain of coronavirus which is 70 per cent more contagious sweeps through the south of England.

He said: "Yes, Christmas this year will be very different, but we must be realistic. 

"We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases. "

What are the new Tier 4 rules?

Tier 4 will include:

  • The Tier 4 will be similar to the November lockdown – with all but essential shops closed
  • The “stay at home” message is expected to be law
  • The plan to allow Brits to form social bubbles over five days will be ditched, with only those in Tiers 1 to 3 allowed to form a bubble on Christmas Day itself
  • International travel abroad is not advised – but won't be banned
  • People should not enter or leave Tier 4
  • People can only meet one person from another household in an outside space
  • They won't be reviewed until 30 December – after Christmas
  • Support bubbles will be still allowed
  • Weddings will be banned except for extreme cases – like those who are terminally ill

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon introduced a travel ban to other parts of the UK and announced a brutal three week lockdown from Boxing Day.

The First Minister said 17 cases of the new mutant strain of Covid has been identified north of the border.

Wales will also go into lockdown today while Northern Ireland will enter a six-week shutdown on December 26.

In England, the PM warned the nation he could not ignore the terrifying new strain and vowed: "We have to act to protect the public."

Mr Johnson said: "As Prime Minister, it is my duty to take the difficult decisions, to do what is right to protect the people of this country. 

"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.

"I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me."

The new restrictions would be reviewed again on December 30.

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