London will be under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday.

A scene from London Bridge Stay Homes Save Lives written across the bridge Image from Pixabay by Queven
Coronavirus COVID-19 Tuesday, December 15, 2020 - 12:53

London will be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions amid a "very sharp" rise in COVID-19 cases and its surrounding areas. The restrictions will come into effect from Wednesday. This comes after a new variant of coronavirus has been identified in parts of England. The UK government announced in Parliament on Monday that the new variant “may be” responsible for the "faster spread" of COVID-19 cases.

"A new variant of coronavirus has been identified in the UK, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the southeast of England," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons. He said that "swift and decisive action" was needed as the doubling rate of the deadly virus has hit just seven days in many of these areas. "We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause, we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out. We must act now to shift the curve because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too," he said.

However, the World Health Organisation said that there is no evidence to suggest that the mutation will impact the effectiveness of the vaccines against COVID-19. “So far, we don't have any evidence that this variant behaves differently. But we will continue to evaluate and inform you of any changes," said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead, WHO.

Tier-3 restrictions, the highest level in England's three-tier system, mean a near-complete lockdown, with people allowed to meet those they do not live with only in outdoor settings and hospitality venues directed to shut except for takeaways and deliveries.

The minister said that experts had identified over 1,000 cases with the variant, predominantly in the south of England. "Cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas and numbers are increasing rapidly. Similar variants have been identified in other countries over the last few months," he said, adding that the World Health Organisation has been notified about the variant and that it is unlikely to cause more serious disease than other variants of the coronavirus.

He stressed that mobile testing and community testing are also being expanded, with another 67 local authorities getting community testing this week to help areas move down tiers and return closer to normal life.

Watch: Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons 

In reference to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout currently underway, Hancock said that thanks to science help is on its way, but this isn't over yet.

(With input from PTI)

 

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