London, Dec 17 (PTI) More areas of England were moved into the highest coronavirus alert level of Tier 3 on Thursday, a day after London and surrounding areas were brought under similar toughest lockdown restrictions due to the rising cases of COVID-19.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock updated the House of Commons on the fortnightly review of the three-tier lockdown regime and included Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire and parts of Cambridgeshire, Surrey, East Sussex and Hampshire in Tier 3 – which imposes a ban on inter-household mixing indoors with only takeaways and deliveries allowed at hospitality venues.
“No one wants tougher restrictions any longer than necessary, but where they are necessary we must put them in place to prevent the NHS [National Health Service] being overwhelmed and to protect life. This is a moment where we must act with caution,' the minister told MPs.
'As we enter the coldest months, we must be vigilant. This isn't just a matter for government or for this House, it's a matter for every single person. We must be cautious as we accelerate the vaccine deployment. We've come so far, we mustn't blow it now,' he said, pointing to rising infection rates around the world, including across Europe and beyond in the US and Japan.
The new restrictions will come into effect from Saturday, when some areas such as Bristol and North Somerset will move down a tier, to Tier 2, while Herefordshire is to move out of Tier 2 into Tier 1 – in light of a low case rate of 45 per 100,000.
Hancock stressed that the good news is that lockdowns are not the only tool available to the government and committed to 'further expanding' the testing programme to schools and accelerating the vaccine rollout, with more than 200 vaccine sites now open.
'The best thing we can all do is act with responsibility to get this virus under control,' he said, as he urged people to exercise caution over the “Christmas bubble” period when the laws are being relaxed between December 23 and 27 to allow families to meet over the festive period.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had addressed a 10 Downing Street briefing on Wednesday evening to urge people to keep celebrations “short” and “small” in order to protect those more vulnerable to the deadly virus, such as grandparents.
'A smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas,' he said.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has also reiterated that message by saying that she has chosen not to meet many of her family members over the holiday period to minimise the risk.
'Don't travel if you don't need to, don't stay overnight somewhere else where you don't need to, stay at home effectively, with your small support bubble,' the senior Cabinet minister said.
'We want everyone to have a wonderful Christmas, we really do. But in a smaller, safer way, a localised way. I think the public understand that,' she said.
There had been some doubt over the exemption over Christmas, with fears that it could lead to further spikes in infection rates. However, all four parts of the United Kingdom – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – agreed to go ahead with the brief leeway but with strong caveats and caution for people to exercise restraint and avoid too much inter-household mixing.
The UK has reported 1,913,277 COVID-19 cases so far while the death toll stands at 65,520. PTI AK NSA