London and SE plunged into Tier 4 Covid rules and told to stay home over Christmas

19 December 2020, 14:29 | Updated: 20 December 2020, 06:47

By Kate Buck

London and the South East are now banned from mixing households this Christmas as they are plunged into new Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions in England.

The Prime Minister said the new restrictions would be more similar to the restrictions seen in the Spring, and those in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix households at all over the festive season.

Non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities in these areas will close.

These measures came into into force from midnight. In Tier 4 the ‘Stay At Home’ message will be put in law. As previously, there will be exemptions - including travelling for work or education, for childcare purposes, and for exercise.

In Tiers 1,2 and 3, the previous rule that people would be allowed to form a "Christmas Bubble" for five days, has been scaled back to just Christmas Day across all of England.

People living in Tier 4 are not allowed to travel outside of their area and would be restricted to meeting only one other person not in their household in an outdoor space.

Read more: 'Christmas bubbles' only allowed on Christmas Day, Boris Johnson says

Boris Johnson has reduced Christmas Bubbles to just one day in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 - and banned mixing completely for homes in Tier 4
Boris Johnson has reduced Christmas Bubbles to just one day in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 - and banned mixing completely for homes in Tier 4. Picture: PA

Those living in Tier 4 will also not be allowed to travel abroad.

Boris Johnson said the Government was becoming increasingly alarmed over the discovery of a new variant of coronavirus, which can be spread more quickly.

Speaking on Saturday during the Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the new variant was "passed on significantly more easily", and could be up to 70% more transmissible.

He added there was no evidence the new strain was any more deadly or resistant against the vaccine.

Ministers had been mulling over the possibility of a Tier 4 - which would see people being told to stay at home with commuting banned, schools would stay shut for an extra week, and non-essential shops would be shut.

Boris Johnson called an emergency Cabinet meeting earlier this afternoon to discuss the measures, and will be holding a press conference this afternoon to update the nation.

LIVE updates: Boris Johnson holds briefing as London 'heads into Tier 4'

Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty said the UK had now informed the World Health Organisation of the mutant strain, and Mr Johnson was reported to have held an unscheduled meeting of ministers on Friday amid "growing concern" over it.

On Friday night it was reported that some hospitals in Kent were completely full - just hours after postponing all non-urgent procedures.

Several other NHS trusts have announced similar measures throughout the week as they face rapidly growing numbers of Covid-19 patients.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has previously endorsed 'Tier 4' as a way of controlling the spread of the virus.

London is expected to be placed into Tier 4 imminently
London is expected to be placed into Tier 4 imminently. Picture: PA

Full list of areas going into Tier 4 from midnight TONIGHT

-London
- Kent
- Buckinghamshire
- Berkshire
- Surrey (ex Waverley)
- Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth
- Rother and Hastings
- East of England
- Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough
- Hertfordshire
- Essex (ex Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)

A statement from SAGE in November read: "There is a great deal of uncertainty about the effect of tiers, particularly Tier 3.

"Test and trace, including mass testing, is most effective when prevalence is low.

"Even the most effective test and trace system will have little impact when caseloads are high.

Read more: Boris Johnson 'hopes to avoid' third lockdown but doesn't rule it out

Read more: UK coronavirus R number rises to between 1.1 and 1.2

"Given that the impact of tiers will vary depending on the characteristics of different areas, a “Tier 4” needs to be considered for those parts of the country where Tier 3 is not able to shrink the epidemic.

"This is particularly important in the run-up to the winter festive period if relaxation of measures is under consideration.

"Keeping incidence flat or decreasing between now and then is crucial."

Read more: Fears new Covid-19 strain spreading quickly as South East could face tougher travel rules

Boris Johnson has been keen to avoid another lockdown
Boris Johnson has been keen to avoid another lockdown. Picture: PA