British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a "stay at home" order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious. Early data suggests the new strain could be "up to 70 percent more transmissible," Johnson said at a televised briefing.
He ordered new restrictions for London and south-eastern England from Sunday, saying that "residents in those areas must stay at home" at least until December 30. The aim of the new rules is to slow the spread of the new strain to areas where it is not yet prevalent.
The measures will mean around a third of England's population cannot travel or meet other households for Christmas. It was a dramatic step-up after Johnson said last week that it would be "inhuman" to "cancel Christmas" by banning family gatherings, though he urged people to have small celebrations.
"It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Johnson told the nation. "Alas when the facts change, you have to change your approach."
The announcement came as Britain has seen rising cases and hospital admissions this month. "This virus has taken off, it's moving fast, and it's leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions," said Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser.
On Saturday there were 27,052 new cases in the UK, slightly less than on Friday. Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, bowling alleys, casinos, hairdressers and nail bars will be closed in London and other affected regions, including Kent, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Only one person from one household will be allowed to meet one person from another household in a public place, outside.