A bus drives past a sign detailing measures taken by the government against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on the first day of a newly imposed lockdown on November 5, 2020 in London, UK.
John Sibley | Reuters
LONDON – The UK government on Wednesday outlined plans to impose stricter coronavirus restrictions on millions of people across England as a new strain of the virus spreads across the country.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more regions would be classified in the toughest Tier 4 category from 12:01 a.m. London time on Thursday.
“This new variant is now spreading in most of England and the cases are quickly doubling,” Hancock told the House of Commons. “It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a larger area, including the remaining parts of the south-east as well as large parts of the central plateau, the north-west, the north-east and the south-west.”
The move will mean three-quarters of the population will be in Tier 4 for the new year, Hancock said.
The restrictions imposed on a “stay at home” order mean people are not allowed to leave their homes unless they have a reasonable excuse. Businesses such as non-essential stores, gyms, and hairdressers are closing.
The announcement comes shortly after the Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine was approved for use in the UK emergency. The vaccine is believed to allow the UK to speed up its vaccination program significantly.
“We must of course vaccinate as soon as supplies allow, after the necessary security checks have been carried out, and the NHS is ready to accelerate the deployment on a larger scale from Monday January 4th,” said Hancock.
He added, “We have ordered a total of 100 million doses which, together with the Pfizer vaccine, is enough to vaccinate every adult in the UK with both doses.”
Anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one, Hancock said, adding that the UK will have 530,000 doses available as of Monday, with millions more due from Astra-Zeneca in early February.
Government data shows that infection rates have risen sharply across England over the past week, with significant pressure on hospitals.
53,135 new Covid cases were registered in the UK on Tuesday, the highest increase in a day since mass testing began.
On Wednesday, the latest government figures showed 981 people in the UK died within 28 days of a positive Covid test – the highest number of deaths since April 9. The UK reported 414 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Tuesday.
The new variant of the coronavirus in the UK is reportedly more transferable and has resulted in travel restrictions for people trying to leave the country. The new strain, known in science as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01, could be up to 70% more transmissible, said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
U.S. health officials on Wednesday confirmed the new strain’s first case. Several other countries have also identified the variant strain in the past few weeks.