The PM has announced tougher ‘tier four rules’ for London and large areas of the South East, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions of people.
Boris Johnson had been under pressure to curb plans to allow up to three households to form Christmas bubbles over a five day period, with health experts warning it could end in disaster.
Concerns have also been raised over a new mutant strain of the virus which is prevalent in the South East and is spreading 70% faster than other forms of the virus, although it is no less lethal.
Since announcing in late November that rules would be eased over Christmas, the Government stuck to its guns, arguing that visiting families and loved ones after such a terrible year would help boost the nation’s mental health.
But faced with growing case numbers and mounting criticism, the PM held a conference on Wednesday, urging people to ‘have yourselves a merry little Christmas’.
He suggested people limit their meet-ups and group numbers and to avoid overnight stays or travelling from high-risk areas, but refused to scrap the nation’s festive freedoms.
But in a last minute change, Johnson declared at a conference this afternoon that the five days would be thrown out and people in tiers, 1, 2, and 3 would only be allowed to mix households on Christmas Day itself – freezing out London and the South East.
Earlier the PM held emergency talks with Cabinet ministers as scientists confirmed that the new variant of coronavirus was spreading more rapidly.
The chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said the UK had now informed the World Health Organisation that it had concluded the mutant strain could spread more quickly.
In a statement he said: ‘We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.
‘There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.
‘Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.’
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the situation was on a ‘knife-edge’ with infections rising and hospital admissions on the increase.
Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced fresh lockdowns once Christmas is over while the Scottish Government has said the option ‘remains on the table’.
More to follow.
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