London to enter Tier 3 as new COVID variant discovered in UK

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·5-min read

WATCH: London set for Tier 3 lockdown restrictions

Greater London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will face Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday, as the UK government seeks to get a grip on rising infections including a new variant of COVID-19.

Millions of people face stricter curbs on everyday life and many hospitality and culture firms face closure as the areas are placed on ‘very high alert’ by the UK government from 12.01am local time on Wednesday.

Health secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged the decision would be a “significant blow” for affected firms in a Commons statement confirming the changes on Monday. He resisted business chiefs’ calls for more help and warnings thousands of jobs were at risk, with more than half England’s hospitality venues now reported to be in Tier 3.

What Tier 3 restrictions mean

More than eight million residents of Greater London will be affected, as well as others who commute into or visit the capital.

The areas set for tougher restrictions in Essex are Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea, and Thurrock. In Hertfordshire, Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford face stricter rules.

Rules for areas in the highest of England’s three regional lockdown tiers mean:

  • People cannot meet socially indoors (private homes or venues like pubs) or outdoors (in a private garden or at most outdoor public venues) with anybody who they do not live with or have a support bubble with.

  • Enforced closure for local hospitality firms, marking a major hit in the crucial festive trading period. Venues including pubs, bars restaurants, cafes, cinemas and museums will be forced to shut bar takeaway services.

  • Cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, indoor zoos and play areas, aquariums, casinos, bingo halls, conference centres, bowling alleys, clubs, theme parks and heritage sites will also have to close.

  • Retail premises, personal care services like salons and barbers, community centres, libraries, leisure facilities, and outdoor tourism and entertainment venues can all remain open.

  • Households will only be able to meet in outdoor public spaces in groups of up to six. Police can take action and fine people who meet in larger groups, such as fixed penalty notice of £200 for the first offence, all the way up to £10,000 to extreme cases.

What restrictions mean for Christmas and shopping in London

Asked whether shoppers could do their Christmas shopping in the capital, Hancock only advised minimising travel in or to Tier 3 areas “unless necessary.”

The move will not affect plans for a relaxation of coronavirus rules over the Christmas period, allowing three households to travel and form a bubble between 23 and 27 December, however.

One Conservative MP told Politico the move meant shifting “from Tier 2 to 3 to 0 and then back to 3 in a matter of weeks.”

Hancock told people to be “cautious and careful” over the festive period, saying they had a “personal responsibility” to ensure they kept vulnerable relatives or others safe.

New coronavirus strain could explain rising south-east cases

Hancock warned of “very sharp, exponential rises” in infections in London, Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent, and said cases nationally had risen 14% in the past week. “Until we can vaccinate enough people...we must act to suppress this virus.”

He also told MPs a new variant of the virus was spreading rapidly in Britain, “which may be associated with the faster spread in the south-east of England.” Around 1,000 cases have been found in 60 different areas, and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), he added.

But Hancock sought to reassure the public its symptoms were not more serious, and it was “highly unlikely” vaccines would not work, though tests are ongoing.

Restrictions a ‘terrible blow’ for firms facing shutdown

Tier 3 curbs are likely to cause significant economic damage to Greater London and the areas affected in Essex and Hertfordshire, which join a long list of regions dealing with tougher rules.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of the London First business group, said it was a “terrible blow” for the city’s hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors.

READ MORE: Business secretary warns shoppers not to stockpile

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said affected firms were effectively "back into lockdown," calling the move "illogical" and arguing the government should be focusing on school outbreaks.

Analysis of Altus Group data by the Guardian suggests more than half of all English hospitality firms now face shutdowns, up from 37% prior to the announcement.

The British Beer & Pub Association warned the measures risked 8,000 jobs, forcing another 1,250 London pubs to shut on top of those already closed as they cannot serve food. Chief executive Emma McClarkin called it "another nail in the coffin" for pubs, forcing cancelled bookings in the lead-up to Christmas.

WATCH: London mayor Sadiq Khan urges PM to consider shutting secondary schools and colleges

Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was one of many business leaders demanding more support for hard-hit firms. He called for urgent cash grants and an extended business rate holiday, mitigating the impact of lost trade while firms’ costs continue to rack up.

Hancock only pointed to existing business support measures when pressed by MPs, however.

London mayor Sadiq Khan also acknowledged over the weekend that Tier 3 curbs would be “catastrophic” for hospitality and culture venues, but said the city was at a “tipping point” with infection rates. Khan has suggested ending the school term early and extending the Christmas break to curb rising cases in schools and colleges.

Londoners make up around 13.4% of the UK’s total population, according to European Commission data. However London’s economy generated almost a quarter of the UK’s total output last year, responsible for 23.6% of GDP.