Tougher restrictions to be extended in England as coronavirus cases soar

Britain reports 40,000 new cases and 744 deaths – the highest daily figures since April

Police officers   beneath a sign reading “Testing to Commence”, at the entrance to the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England  where Covid-19 testing is set to begin on drivers who have been queueing to leave the UK. Photograph:Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty

Police officers beneath a sign reading “Testing to Commence”, at the entrance to the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England where Covid-19 testing is set to begin on drivers who have been queueing to leave the UK. Photograph:Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty

 

Millions more people in England face the toughest restrictions from December 26th as Britain struggles to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday that Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and most of most of Hampshire and Sussex would join London and other parts of south-east England in Tier 4 restrictions close to a full lockdown.

He said that cases have risen by 57 per cent in the past week with 19,000 people in hospital, close to the level seen at the peak of the pandemic earlier this year. Britain reported 40,000 new coronavirus cases and 744 deaths, the highest daily figure since April.

“Against this backdrop of rising infections, rising hospitalisations and rising numbers of people dying from coronavirus it is absolutely vital that we act. We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for,” Mr Hancock said.   

“We know that the three-tiered system worked to control the old variant and is working now in large parts of the country, especially in northern England. But we also know that tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant. This is not a hypothesis, it is a fact and we’ve seen it on the ground.”

He said yet another variant of coronavirus had been found in Britain among people who had recently been in South Africa and that it appeared to be even more transmissible than the variant that triggered new restrictions last Saturday. Britain imposed immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa and told people who had been there in the past two weeks to self-isolate.

“These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain,” Mr Hancock said.

In gridlock

More than 50 countries banned flights from Britain after Saturday’s announcement but travel restrictions began to ease on Wednesday as some EU countries allowed some travellers to enter. France agreed to allow lorry drivers to cross from Dover to Calais if they tested negative for coronavirus but thousands of vehicles remained in gridlock at the port.

Fights broke out between drivers and police in Dover as staff began to arrive to offer lateral flow tests which can provide results within an hour. Drivers blocked the entrance to the port at Dover after they were told they had to drive 18 miles to Manston Airport, where nearly 4000 lorries were already queuing, to receive a test.

British retailers warned that continuing delays at the port could lead to shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops after Christmas.

“It is good news for consumers as the French borders have now reopened, however it is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible,” said Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

“Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods.”