London Enters Tier 3 Covid Rules Wednesday as New Variant Found

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London and parts of south-east England will move into the toughest pandemic restrictions from Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, as he warned a “new variant” of the disease may be driving a rapid rise in cases.

The U.K. capital will be put into tier 3, the highest level of curbs, after infections and hospitalization rates soared, the minister said.

A new variant of coronavirus has been identified and may be behind the fast spreading disease in London and the south east, Hancock added. “When the virus is spreading exponentially there is not a moment to spare,” Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday.

The new variant of the virus is being assessed by government scientists and the World Health Organization has been told about the development, Hancock said. There is nothing to suggest vaccines won’t be effective against the new variant, he told lawmakers.

The switch to tier 3 will see London’s pubs, bars, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues forced to close in a huge blow to businesses — just days before the U.K. is given a five-day relaxation of the rules over Christmas.

Between Dec. 23 and 27, people will be free to mingle with two other households indoors, a move doctors have warned will lead to a rise in infections and hospitalization rates in January and February.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who demanded financial help for affected businesses, called for schools to close early for Christmas and face coverings to be compulsory in crowded shopping streets.

Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive Officer of London First, an industry group for the capital’s businesses, called the move “a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors” and said government should support businesses forced to close so that they can “survive into the New Year.”

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