Boris Johnson Extends Lockdown to Much of England to Curb Virus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher regulations across a large swath of England in an effort to stamp down on the mutant strain of coronavirus that’s spreading quickly across the country.

Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, most of Hampshire and the remainder of Essex will now face the strictest rules in the government’s 4-tier system, from 00:01 a.m. on Dec. 26, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday in a press conference.

Boris Johnson Extends Lockdown to Much of England to Curb Virus

They join London and southeast England, meaning non-essential shops will have to close and socializing is further curtailed.

The new variant “is spreading at a dangerous rate,” said Hancock, putting the rise in cases in the past week at 57%. “The direction is clear and in many cases quite stark.”

The government is struggling to bring the virus back under control after the new mutant strain began spreading rapidly in London and surrounding areas.

After an England-wide lockdown last month halted growth in infections, the virus has since started spreading exponentially again, risking overwhelming the National Health Service as cases tick upwards.

More Cash

Separately, the Treasury announced 800 million pounds ($1.1 billion) in fresh cash for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to help them support companies and workers through the pandemic. That brings to 16.8 billion pounds the total extra cash to the regional governments announced since the budget in March.

The Treasury is splurging 280 billion pounds on tackling the virus and supporting companies and workers in the current fiscal year. But the pressure is mounting for Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to spend even more, not least from the hospitality industry which he singled out for special assistance over the summer.

“These urgent restrictive actions require equally urgent accompanying financial supports for businesses, many more of which have been flung closer to commercial failure,” UKHospitality Chief Executive Officer Kate Nicholls said in a statement. “The incessant hammering of hospitality businesses must be followed up with an equally exaggerated raft of supports.”

The U.K. reported 39,237 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the biggest daily increase since the pandemic began. Another 744 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test, the highest since the end of April.

New Strains

While ministers hold out hope that a vaccination program that started this month means the restrictions can start to be eased in the spring, Hancock warned that the new mutation complicates matters.

“This Christmas and the start of 2021 is going to be tough,” he said. “The new variant makes everything much harder because it spreads so much faster.”

The new coronavirus variant, which emerged in southeast England in September, has alarmed scientists and governments around the world because early analysis suggests it may be as much as 70% more transmissible than other circulating strains. Countries including France temporarily suspended travel from the U.K. in response.

Hancock also said that two new cases of an even more transmissible variant originating in South Africa have so far been detected in the U.K. He told people who have recently returned from South Africa to go into quarantine.

Moving to Tier 4The remainder of Essex, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire (including Portsmouth and Southampton, but excluding the New Forest)
Moving to Tier 3Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest, Nothamptonshire, Cheshire and Warrington
Moving to Tier 2Cornwall, Herefordshire

The latest decision means that from Dec. 26, 24 million people will be in tier 4, 25 million in tier 3, and 7 million in tier 2. The just over 2,000 residents of the Isles of Scilly off the southwest coast will be the only people left in tier 1 in England.

Across the U.K., the reproduction factor of the virus -- the so-called R number -- is now between 1.1 and 1.3, the government said in a statement. That means every 10 infected people spread the virus to another 11 to 13 people.

The rate has increased since November, when a lockdown in England helped push it below 1, meaning the outbreak was shrinking. The situation is now particularly acute in London and eastern England, where the R may be as high as 1.5, according to Wednesday’s statement.

RegionLatest R NumberLast Week
East of England1.2-1.51.2-1.4
North East and Yorkshire0.9-1.10.9-1.1
North West0.9-1.10.9-1.1
South East1.2-1.41.1-1.3
South West1.0-1.20.9-1.2

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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