London Tier 3: Capital to follow toughest Covid rules as cases surge

14 December 2020, 14:58 | Updated: 15 December 2020, 15:16

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

London is to enter Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions amid a surge in Covid cases in the capital, Matt Hancock confirmed to MPs on Monday.

The Tier 3 announcement for the city comes after data revealed the number of new coronavirus cases rose in every single London borough in the week to December 10.

The capital will be joined by parts of Essex and Hertfordshire from one minute past midnight on Wednesday morning in facing the toughest Covid restrictions.

The Health Secretary also said a "new variant" of coronavirus has been identified in the UK which "may be associated with the faster spread in the South East".

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Mr Hancock told the Commons: "We've therefore decided to move Greater London, the south and west of Essex, which includes Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, along with Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils and the south of Hertfordshire which means Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority into Tier 3 which is the very high alert level."

He added: "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."

Mr Hancock said those "most impacted" would continue to be supported through the Government's furlough scheme and support for the self-employed, while there would also be more community testing.

In Tier 3, all bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues must close under new tough rules and restrictions, except for takeaway, delivery and click and collect services.

People must not meet socially indoors with anyone they do not live with or they are not in a support bubble with, which includes private gardens and most outdoors public venues.

The measures likely mean that football fans will not be allowed in stadiums or other sporting venues once the measures kick in, while theatres are also set for further closures.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said there is "diminishing headroom" before Christmas as he warned case rates are increasing in England.

He told the Commons: "Across London cases have increased 30 per cent, across the East of England 36 per cent, so none of us are surprised at the action (Matt Hancock) is taking today. Indeed, he was warned Tier 2 would not be enough to contain the spread of the virus in many places.

"Indeed it looks like in some areas, such as Kent, Tier 3 isn't enough to contain the spread either."

Mr Ashworth said Tier 3 does appear to be forcing the virus to "flatline" elsewhere in the country, citing the North West, but noted: "The increasing areas are rising faster than the decreasing areas are falling, and as things stand we're heading into the Christmas easing with diminishing headroom.”

He added that some care home providers are "refusing" to use lateral flow tests used widely in community testing as they are concerned about the accuracy of them.

The Health Secretary earlier told MPs representing affected constituencies that the Government needed to act fast and could not wait until the middle of the week, when a review was planned, to make a decision.

Labour's Rupa Huq MP said on Twitter: "Worst kept secret ever confirmed. London and Essex (except Tendring) and Herts (Watford/ Hertsmere/ Broxbourne) from 1 min past midnight Weds."

Another MP said they were told that cases are doubling every seven days in the capital.

It follows warnings from London Mayor Sadiq Khan that the strictest measures - which will involve the closure of pubs and restaurants except for takeaway and delivery services - would have a "catastrophic" economic impact.

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Mr Khan called for schools to close as early as Tuesday, following a surge in cases among 10-19-year-olds in the capital.

Greenwich and Islington councils have already told all schools to close this week and switch to online learning.

Every London borough, apart from Westminster and Ealing, has seen cases rise by more than 20 per cent.

The latest figures show nearly 24,000 cases in a week, and ten boroughs saw cases rise by more than 44 per cent.

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