COVID-19: Large swathes of East, South East and South West put into Tier 4

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More areas in the east, southeast and southwest of England will be moved into Tier 4 to battle the growing number of coronavirus cases, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

The measure is effectively a regional lockdown and will come into force on Boxing Day in:

  • Sussex

  • Oxfordshire

  • Suffolk

  • Norfolk

  • Cambridgeshire

  • Parts of Essex currently not in Tier 4

  • Waverley in Surrey

  • Hampshire (apart from the New Forest)

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Areas going into Tier 3 are:

  • Bristol

  • Gloucestershire

  • Somerset

  • Swindon

  • Isle of Wight

  • The New Forest

  • Northamptonshire

  • Cheshire

  • Warrington

Cornwall and Herefordshire are also moving into Tier 2.

It means that 34.3 million people (52% of the UK population) will be living in Tier 4 or its regional equivalent from 26 December, with 24.7 million (37%) in Tier 3, 7.4 million (11%) in Tier 2, and just the 2,224 people on the Isles of Scilly (0.0033%) in Tier 1

Dr Jenny Harries, one of England's deputy chief medical officers, said the tier changes were about "encouraging and tightening our own behaviours" in areas where people "stray off course a little bit".

If places need to be moved to a higher tier again, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he would be "prepared to act incredibly fast".

"The current tiers are working," he insisted. "We've all got to take responsibility for our own actions."

Mr Hancock also said two cases of another new, "more transmissible" COVID-19 variant linked to South Africa have been identified in the UK and will be analysed at Porton Down shortly.

"This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK," he warned.

Anyone in the UK who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight or any of their close contacts have been told to quarantine immediately - meaning they "must restrict all contact with any other person".

The law will be changed imminently to give the new measure legal effect.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the creation of Tier 4 on Saturday - the toughest level of regional restrictions intended to clamp down on COVID-19 hotspots.

The first areas put into the highest band of measures were:

  • In southeast England: London, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings

  • In eastern England: Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)

Plans to let people see family and friends over Christmas were also overhauled, with people in Tier 4 told they could not meet anyone outside their household apart from one person for exercise.

For everyone else, the "Christmas bubbles" plan was changed to apply only on Christmas Day - instead of the original 23-27 December.

Questions remain over whether Tier 4 will be enough to stop the growth of COVID-19.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a government adviser whose modelling contributed to the first national lockdown, said while schools were closed he had "more confidence" the R number - the average number of people someone with coronavirus passes it on to - could come back under 1.

"But we will see really what will happen in the next two weeks," he cautioned.

"If we - hopefully as we will do - see a significant decline in the case numbers both of the variant and non-variant it will offer us greater confidence going into the new year that maybe Tier 4 might be sufficient.

"If we don't, of course we're in a more difficult situation."

On Friday, the weekly R number rose slightly from between 1.1-1.2 to 1.1-1-3. The UK also recorded its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases to date, with 39,237.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 744, which was the highest increase since the end of April.