To fight the brand new pressure of COVID, British Prime Minister Johnson reverses Christmas plans for thousands and thousands
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a press conference in London on the current situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson has effectively locked over 16 million people in England and reversed curb easing plans over Christmas. Britain is dealing with a new strain of coronavirus that is up to 70% more transmissible than the original.
Although Johnson and his scientific advisors believe vaccines will continue to be effective and the new strain is no more deadly or serious in terms of the disease it causes, he said on Saturday the government needed urgent action.
The number of cases in England has increased in the past two weeks due to the virus variant.
Johnson tore down plans to allow three households to mingle indoors for five days during the holiday season, saying London and South East England, which are currently at the top of a three-tier system of rules, would now be upgraded to a new level of 4 , similar to a recent national lockdown.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I have to tell you that we cannot continue Christmas as planned,” Johnson said at a press conference. “I sincerely believe that I have no alternative.”
People in Tier 4 – 16.4 million and about a third of the population of England – are forced to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work, and non-essential retail stores are closed, as well as indoor recreational and entertainment opportunities.
Social mixing is limited to meeting another person in an outdoor area. The new rules will come into effect on Saturday from midnight.
Johnson, whose initial response to the pandemic was criticized for being too slow, had defied calls to change plans for the Christmas relaxation, saying on Wednesday it was “frankly inhuman” to ban it.
Those who are now in Tier 4 are not allowed to mingle with others over Christmas. And everyone else in England is now only allowed to see friends and family on Christmas Day, December 25th.
“At this time of national crisis, the British people want clear, determined leadership,” opposition leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter. “All we get from Boris Johnson is confusion and indecision.”
Within minutes of Johnson’s announcement, shoppers were taking to the streets for one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts and supplies.
“It was pretty quiet all day, then suddenly there was this mass of people,” said a sales assistant in a large department store in Westfield shopping center in west London, one of the largest in Europe.
The other nations of Britain, whose response to the pandemic is at times different from that of England, have also taken action.
Scotland said Saturday it would impose a travel ban on the rest of the UK and Christmas relief would only be limited to December 25th. All of Wales will join Tier 4 from midnight, but two households may mingle on Christmas Day.
Business leaders said the government needed to provide emergency financial assistance.
“The consequences of this decision will be severe,” said Helen Dickinson, executive director of the British Retail Consortium.
Like other countries in Europe, the UK is struggling to contain new waves of the virus. 27,052 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Saturday, more than 2 million in total, and 534 more deaths, bringing the official casualty figure to over 67,000.
The increase in infections caused by the new virus strain VUI202012 / 01 has increased.
“This virus has spread, it moves quickly and it inevitably leads to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,” said UK Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said authorities had alerted the World Health Organization and would continue to analyze the data.
“There’s no evidence that it is more deadly or causes more serious illness,” Johnson said. “There is no evidence that the vaccine will be less effective against the new variant.
Other countries have also reported variants of the virus. South Africa said on Friday that such exposure triggered a second wave of infections there.