Devon and Cornwall move up to Tier 3 tomorrow
Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com
Millions more people in England will be placed under stay-at-home orders from New Year’s Eve, the government has confirmed, after the new variant of Covid-19 contributed to a record rise in infections across the country.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that 75% of England – including all of the north-east, Greater Manchester, large parts of the Midlands and the south-west – would be in the strictest tier 4 rules from Thursday morning.
They will join nearly 24 million people in England already under the “stay at home” restrictions, meaning the closure of non-essential shops and strict one-to-one outdoor meeting limits between households.
There have been growing calls for tighter coronavirus restrictions in England as cases continue to rise and hospitals report mounting pressure. All of mainland Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already in the tightest restrictions, meaning the closure of hospitality and non-essential retail.
The number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals surpassed the first-wave peak on Sunday, with 21,787 people in hospital with the disease on Tuesday morning and numbers expected to rise further as cases climb.
The infection rate in England increased by a third in the week to Christmas Eve, while the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital rose by 8% on the week before – to 14,915 people.
On Tuesday, cases reached a record high, with 53,135 reported in the UK, including 47,164 in England. The Covid variant discovered earlier this month accounted for a majority of all new cases in London, the south-east and east of England, Hancock said on Wednesday.
Areas moved into tier 4 include all of the Midlands except Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and Rutland, which will all be in tier 3. In the north-west, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, Cheshire, Warrington and Cumbria will be in tier 4. Liverpool will be moved up to tier 3.
In the south-west, Gloucestershire, Swindon, Somerset, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be in tier 4, while the remainder of the region – including Cornwall, Devon and Dorset – will be moved up to tier 3. The Isles of Scilly, which have a population of 2,224 people, will be the only part of England not in tiers 3 or 4.
Hancock told the Commons that Wednesday was “a day of mixed emotions” due to the announcement of the new restrictions hours after the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the UK’s medical regulator.
He told MPs: “It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no one in this house wants to see any longer than are absolutely necessary. But we must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.
“And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”
Hancock said he knew the measures would place a significant burden on businesses and livelihoods but that it was “absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we have seen”.