Matt Hancock is to lead a Downing Street coronavirus press conference on Monday evening as it was announced that London will move into Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.
As he announced a newly-discovered variant of coronavirus that could be contributing to a fast spread of COVID-19 in the south of England, the health secretary told MPs that the capital will be joined by parts of Essex and Hertfordshire in the toughest bracket of restrictions.
London’s move to Tier 3 on Wednesday follows a “deeply concerning” spike in infections.
Watch: London Tier 3 decision ‘could be made today’
Hancock said: “I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted and that for businesses affected, it will be a significant blow, but this action is absolutely essential not just to keep people safe, but because we’ve seen early action can prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.
“These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too and we must take the actions that are not necessarily easy but are effective.”
In moving to Tier 3, Greater London will be joined by the south and west of Essex – Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils – and the south of Hertfordshire – Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority.
Under Tier 3, pubs and restaurants will be forced to close except for takeaway services over the Christmas period.
But Downing Street has insisted that Christmas measures will not change despite soaring COVID-19 rates in some parts of the UK.
The latest weekly figures show coronavirus rates and hospital admissions have increased across every area of London.
Speaking after a government briefing for London MPs earlier on Monday, Labour’s Catherine West said she anticipated Tier 3 would be necessary for London.
She said: “With the case rate doubling every four days and with the incompetence of this government in getting the isolation strategy working I can’t see how we can keep our hospitals coping unless there is some kind of lockdown.”
Other London MPs who attended the briefing with junior health minister Helen Whately painted a similarly sombre picture.
One described the picture as “very depressing”, and another said there was a “lot of frustration” with no real answers to their questions.
The MP suggested that the message over Christmas would be “do not mix if you don’t need to”.
On Monday, London mayor Sadiq Khan said he had tried to convince the government that Tier 3 is a “blunt instrument”, and argued the rise in cases was not linked to hospitality venues but instead due to a significant increase in schools and colleges.
He had asked the government to consider closing schools early before Christmas.
Khan told Sky News: “My understanding is that Covid-O is meeting as we speak – that’s the sub-committee of the Cabinet that makes the recommendations.
“We will have to wait and see what the government decides – it’s a government decision, not my decision or London leaders’ decision.”
Khan said “it’s possible” that a decision will be made today “because we have seen over the last few days a big increase in the virus”.
But he added: “It’s worth looking where the virus is spreading faster and it’s worth looking at the areas where we have seen the biggest increase.
“It’s worth them asking themselves the question: whether a move to Tier 3 is a blunt instrument that doesn’t really address in a laser-like fashion where we are seeing the biggest problems.”
Watch: Hancock tells UK not to ‘blow it’