Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions will be tightened in more parts of England from Boxing Day.
More of the east and south east of England will enter the highest Tier 4 lockdown on 26 December, while other parts of the country will move into Tier 3 and Tier 2.
The change means that 24 million people will now be under Tier 4 restrictions over Christmas, accounting for 43 per cent of the population of England.
New Covid variant found
Mr Hancock has warned that the new mutated strain of coronavirus is spreading at a dangerous rate, forcing restrictions to be tightened ahead of the planned review on 30 December.
Scientists have said the strain, first detected in the south of England, is 70 per cent more infectious than previous mutations.
As such, the government has recommended that further action is needed in the tiering process following a 57 per cent rise in Covid cases in the last week.
Hospital admissions are now at 1,909 per day - the highest figure since the peak in mid-April, while 691 deaths were reported on Tuesday (22 December).
Mr Hancock said “it is vital that we act” and stressed that it will not be possible to have the Christmas that people yearn for.
The tougher measures come after the government announced two cases of another new strain of coronavirus have now been detected in the UK.
The variant has come from contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.
The Health Secretary warned that the new strain is “yet more more transmissible” and appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has already been discovered in the UK.”
Both cases and close contacts have been quarantined and there are now immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.
The government is advising those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.
Mr Hancock added: “These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down.”
Which areas face higher tiers?
From 00.01am on Boxing Day (26 December), these areas will be moved into the following tiers:
- Parts of Essex not yet in Tier 4
- Waverley in Surrey
- Hampshire, including Portsmouth and Southampton with the exception of the New Forest
- Somerset, including the North Somerset council area
- The Isle of Wight
- The New Forest