More than 60% of England faces winter under the toughest Covid restrictions, with pubs and restaurants forced to close before Christmas amid warnings of a new strain of the virus.
In London and parts of the south-east, 10 million people will enter tier 3 measures on Wednesday, the health secretary announced – less than two weeks after a national lockdown designed to suppress surging coronavirus cases.
After a week of uplifting news from the start of the vaccine rollout, Matt Hancock said it was a “salutary warning for the whole country” as he urged people to minimise all social contact. “This isn’t over yet,” he said, placing London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire under tier 3 and bringing the number of people under the strictest rules to 34 million.
MPs, including Conservative backbenchers and scientists sounded the alarm ahead of the five-day Christmas relaxation of curbs but Downing Street insisted the plans would not be reviewed.
In a surprise announcement, Hancock told the Commons that more than 1,000 cases of the new virus strain have been found in almost 60 areas, predominantly in southern England.