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New lockdown restrictions imposed on Saturday on millions of people may have to remain in place for several months until vaccines have been rolled out across the UK, the health secretary has said.
It follows Boris Johnson’s decision to abandon attempts to avoid tighter Covid restrictions, and instead placing millions of people in London and the south-east under the new tier 4 measures.
On Sunday, Matt Hancock said additional restrictions for England announced by the prime minister on Saturday may have to remain for “the next couple of months” while a vaccine is rolled out.
“What is really important is that people not only follow them [the new rules] but everybody in a tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
“We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present.
“All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem.
“We know that because we know that in November that in the areas where this new variant started, in Kent, the cases carried on rising whereas in the rest of the country the November lockdown worked very effectively.
“It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months.”
Hancock said that keeping the new coronavirus variant under control until a vaccine had been rolled out would be “very difficult”.
“The cases in the tier 4 areas have absolutely rocketed in the last few days – the last two weeks or so. We have got a long way to go to solve this,”he said.
A third of the country will no longer be allowed to form bubbles with two other households over the festive period as the prime minister acted to deal with a virulent new strain of Covid-19 that he said “may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant”.
At a No 10 news conference on Saturday, Johnson said he was taking the actions with a “heavy heart”, but the scientific evidence had left him with no choice.
The announcements prompted a rush to the London train stations and by 7pm on Saturday, there were no tickets available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston. Footage posted on social media showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.
The announcements came as a hammer blow to many businesses – particularly retailers hoping to pick up some pre-Christmas sales at the end of a torrid year in which they had faced repeated orders to close.
There was also fury among some Conservative MPs after weeks of growing backbench unrest over the return of more and more stringent controls.
Mark Harper, the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, demanded the recall of parliament so MPs could debate and vote on the changes for England.
Johnson’s announcement was followed by further restrictions in Scotland and Wales.
Wales went into tier 4 from Saturday midnight, with the first minister, Mark Drakeford, describing the situation as “serious”. Rules had been due to be relaxed to allow people to celebrate Christmas from 23 to 28 December, but instead the relaxation will only be allowed on Christmas Day.
Nicola Sturgeon announced a travel ban into Scotland from the rest of the UK, and said the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions would apply across the country for three weeks from Boxing Day.
Those living in England in tiers 1, 2 and 3 are still able to form a Christmas bubble, but it can only be for Christmas Day itself – not for five days as previously announced – and people cannot stay over at another household.
The restrictions however do not impact on existing support bubbles created to help with care and childcare reasons.
The dramatic alterations to the policy, almost a month since it was announced and less than a week before it was due to come in force, is down to the prevalence of the newly-identified VUI2020/12/01 strain of the virus.
The government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) presented evidence that it was spreading far faster than other versions, and that the existing tier 3 restrictions were not able to drive down its spread.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said doctors were reporting being overwhelmed by a massive surge in coronavirus patients.
Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he added: “We have just published the results of a major survey of doctors’ experience over the last week – it paints a really bleak picture.
“Doctors are saying they are overwhelmed, they are seeing a massive surge in Covid cases.
“One in three are seeing even more than during the first wave, but also a massive surge in non-Covid patients, so they are saying they don’t have the capacity to manage both.”
He said the biggest “limiting factor” to increasing NHS capacity was workforce constraints and added: “Unfortunately, we entered the pandemic with a shortage of doctors and nurses.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: England’s new Covid restrictions likely to stay ‘for months’ until vaccine rollout | World news