Commuters walk the Thames Path with a view of Tower Bridge in London, UK on Monday 14 December 2020.
Hollie Adams | Bloomberg via Getty Images
LONDON – London is being placed in England’s toughest coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday morning from midnight after a rapid surge in Covid-19 infection rates.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the move on Monday when addressing lawmakers in the House of Commons. He said UK authorities had identified a new variant of the virus that could be linked to the faster spread of cases in the south-east of England.
“Initial analyzes indicate that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants,” said Hancock, adding that 1,000 cases of the new variant have been identified in England so far.
“There is currently no evidence that this variant is more likely to cause serious illness and, based on the latest clinical recommendations, it is highly unlikely that this mutation will not respond to a vaccine.”
Hancock said similar variants of the coronavirus had been identified in other countries in the past few months and that UK health officials had notified the World Health Organization. Public health experts would continue to analyze the newly identified variant of the virus in the UK, Hancock said.
Earlier this month the government put in place a three tier system of public health measures across England to contain the spread of the outbreak after a month-long lockdown.
At the time, millions of people across the country were placed in “Tier 3” but the UK capital was placed in the second highest level of restrictions.
A nationwide review of the tiered system was originally scheduled for December 16.
In addition to London, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will move into “Tier 3” from 00:01 London time on Wednesday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at the BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the Andrew Marr Show.
Aaron Chown | PA Images via Getty Images
“I know this is difficult news and I know that it will disrupt plans and that it will be a severe blow to the companies affected,” said Hancock.
“But this measure is absolutely necessary, not only to keep people safe, but because we have seen that taking action early can help prevent more damaging and longer-lasting problems later,” he added.
What does tier 3 mean?
Under Tier 3 restrictions, people cannot mix indoors, in private gardens, or in most outdoor locations.
Shops, gyms, and personal care services such as hairdressers are allowed to stay open, but bars, pubs, and restaurants must be closed except for takeaway and delivery.
“I know these steps are difficult, but we mustn’t waver when we hit the final stretch. When we look back on this period of crisis we can all say we played our part,” said Hancock.
Last week, the UK became the first country to vaccinate people with a coronavirus treatment that has been fully tested.
Margaret Keenan, then 90, made history as the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine outside of the experimental conditions.
It is now being given out to front-line health workers, nursing home workers and those over the age of 80 before it becomes more widespread among the UK population.
It is hoped that a safe and effective vaccine can help end the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, more than 72.3 million people worldwide have become infected with Covid-19, with 1.61 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
– CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.