THE NEW mutant coronavirus strain could see England thrown into a New Year lockdown, amid warnings it has spread “everywhere” in the UK.
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was likely that measures would “need to be increased” outside of current Tier 4 regions to get a grip on the virus, which is now spreading even quicker across the nation.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty has warned the Prime Minister that the number of patients in hospital with Covid is on course to match the April peak by New Year’s Eve – and will continue increasing in January, reports the Daily Mail.
The Prime Minister, while denying suggestions a third national lockdown was imminent, acknowledged at Monday’s Downing Street press conference, significant restrictions were likely to remain in place for months, but insisted it would be a “very different world’” by Easter.
Sir Patrick also warned of the new mutant strain ripping across the nation: “It’s more transmissible, we’ve absolutely got to make sure we’ve got the right level of restrictions in place.”
“I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country, and I think its likely therefore that measures are going to need to be increased in some places, not reduced.”
Already a third of the country are in Tier 4 – the new highest level of restrictions like lockdown.
In a grave warning, he added: “I think it is a case that this will spread more.”
He said it was already “everywhere” after other health experts confirmed it was now in every region of the country.
Cases in London have doubled in the last week alone, it was confirmed today.
And there are now eight places across the UK – from Medway to Boston – which have recorded more than 1000 cases per 100,000.
Health Officials tonight warned that anyone who has travelled to Manchester from any Tier 4 area or Wales should isolate for ten days – even if they don’t have Covid symptoms.
Greater Manchester’s 10 Directors of Public Health issued the guidance, which says the isolation period starts from December 19 and visitors must remain indoors in the property where they are currently staying.
Other people who live in the house do not need to isolate unless anyone gets symptoms, but no visitors should be allowed in that house at all, even on Christmas Day.
Boris Johnson was today unable to commit to all kids returning to school as planned in January, too.
It came after scientists on a Sage subcommittee warned today the new strain may be more easily spread among younger children.
And people carry a bigger viral load, meaning they are more prone to spreading it.
Scientists are worried this new variant – which has been found around the world too – may soon become the dominant strain of the virus.
Boris would only say tonight that he wanted to get schools back “if we possibly can”.
They are already due to return to class a week later so that all secondary school kids can get a coronavirus tests.
The PM told the nation tonight: “I think the most useful thing I can tell you at this stage is obviously if we possibly can get schools back in a staggered way at the beginning of January, the way that we have set out.
“But obviously, the commonsensical thing to do is follow the path of the epidemic as we showed last Saturday and keep things under constant review.
“It is very, very important to get kids and keep kids in education if we possibly can.”
Boris faces a nightmare before Christmas today as:
- France shut the border with the UK – forcing lorries with goods to line up for hours on both sides
- It was feared food supplies may be affected within hours – with Sainsburys warning about fruit and veg supplies in the run up to Christmas
- Millions were stranded or unable to travel after a string of countries banned flights to the UK over the new coronavirus strain
- A third of the country was plunged into Tier 4 yesterday – effectively another lockdown – cancelling Christmas for thousands of families
- MPs demanded a vote be held as soon as possible
- More than £33 billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening over the chaos this morning
The PM appeared this evening alongside Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, just days after his national address on Saturday.
He revealed he’d held a crunch call with the French President as the pair try and thrash out a solution to get traffic flowing across the Channel again.
In an attempt to calm the nation, he said the delays “only apply to a very small percentage of food” coming into the UK and insisted everyone should “continue to shop normally” and not panic buy and stockpile.
He said: “I’ve just spoken to President Macron – we had a very good call and we both understand each other’s positions, and want to resolve these problems as fast as as possible.
“We’re working to a solution as I say, as fast as we can, to allow freight traffic to resume, between the UK and France, and to ensure that lorries can travel in both directions in a COVID secure way.”
And he stressed that the “risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low”.
He also told the nation that 500,000 people had now been given the vaccine, as ministers race to get it out faster than the virus is spreading.
STAY AT HOME
At the weekend Mr Johnson was forced to tell people living within Tier 4 areas to cancel their Christmas plans and stay at home once again.
And Brits across the country have been given “stay local” orders for their smaller Christmas celebrations, to stop the virus spreading.
Christmas bubbles were almost entirely scrapped with those living in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 only able to meet loved ones for one day.
News of the mutant strain – which Matt Hancock said was “out of control” – has spooked other nations, who have shut the borders with the UK today and cancelled flights.
France closed all routes by air, sea and the Eurotunnel from the UK, and lorries snaked for as many as seven miles through Kent trying to get to the border.
To add to the chaos, they banned freight and other imports and exports too – sparking panic about food supplies in the run up to Christmas.
The border shut down caused frenzied fear over food shortages, with Sainsbury’s and the British Retail Consortium warning fruit and veg could run out after Christmas.
A spokesperson for the supermarket said: “All products for the Great British Christmas lunch are already in the country and we have plenty of these.
“We are also sourcing everything we can from the UK and looking into alternative transport for product sourced from Europe.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year.
“We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.”
Though, the French Transport Secretary Jean-Baptises Djebbari said the 48-hour shutdown could be eased within hours.
But French President Emmanuel Macron said this could require lorry drivers to hand over a negative Covid PCR tests – which would mean the UK would need to very quickly ramp up mass testing infrastructure in Kent.
MONTHS OF TIER 4
Health Secretary Matt Hancock caused further dismay yesterday, after he suggested Tier 4 rules could stay in place for months – until the vaccination is rolled out to the most vulnerable people.
It has fuelled fears, Tier 4 could be extended to other parts of the UK, as frantic Londoners tried to escape the capital ahead of the new lockdown.
Speaking about the new strain of the virus, Professor Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of Government advisory committee Nervtag, told The Times: “It’s very unlikely anything less than really effective measures are going to control it.
“My concern is people are not going to comply. It’s really important people appreciate the danger.
“It does seem inevitable it will spread but it doesn’t mean it’s useless trying to prevent that from happening.”
He added that it may be “necessary to extend” the Tier 4 restrictions further into England as the virus spreads.
And there were scenes of chaos at airports as France and a host of other European countries, including Germany and Italy, slapped travel bans on anyone coming from the UK.
STRANDED IN EUROPE
Some Brits were held against against their will, as the EU scrambled to stop the new strain making its way to the Continent.
In Germany, officials at Hanover airport set up campbeds for 63 people who arrived from Britain.
Nurses in hazmat suits were screening the last arrivals from the UK on Sunday night as angry passengers were told to sleep in the terminal building.