Discovery of new variant of fast-spreading coronavirus prompts highest tier decision for London

London is set to move into the toughest coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday, the Health Secretary has told MPs, as he revealed a new variant of the disease had been discovered.

Matt Hancock set out the move, which also applies to parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, in a Commons statement.

MPs briefed on the plans said a sharp rise in cases meant Mr Hancock was unable to wait until the scheduled review of England’s tiers on Wednesday.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And Mr Hancock saiid cases in some areas are doubling every seven days.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PAHealth Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PA
Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PA

Mr Hancock said: “Over the last few days, thanks to our worldcass genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the South East of England.

“Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants, we’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England.”

But he said: “I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease, and the latest advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The decision for Greater London, and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, means hospitality venues will need to close and provide takeaway services only.

People cannot meet in private gardens but if observing the rule of six could meet in a park or on a beach, for example.

But in Tier 3, shops will remain open, despite concerns raised about packed streets in the run-up to Christmas.

The next review of the tiers is expected on December 23, a week earlier than planned.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Hancock told MPs: “I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted and that for businesses affected, it will be a significant blow, but this action is absolutely essential not just to keep people safe, but because we’ve seen early action can prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.

“These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too and we must take the actions that are not necessarily easy but are effective.

“We’ll continue to stand with those who are most impacted through our furlough scheme and support for the self-employed, we’ve already begun to surge mobile testing into these parts of London, Essex and Kent and we’re extending community testing too.

“In addition, I can tell the House that this weekend as part of our expansion of community testing, we’re extending it to 67 local authorities across England and further today we’ll be publishing a guide for colleagues to promote, support and champion local community testing and contact tracing.”