London, United Kingdom:
The UK Health Secretary warned Sunday that a strict lockdown on London and south east England could take months as a new strain of the coronavirus was “out of control”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that millions will have to cancel Christmas plans and stay home from Sunday morning as the new strain spreads much faster.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that tough measures, which affect nearly a third of the UK population, could remain in place until the viral vaccine is fully implemented.
“We acted very quickly and decisively,” Hancock told Sky News, explaining the “stay at home” order, the ban on family gatherings over Christmas and the closure of non-essential businesses.
“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have to get it under control.”
Around 16.4 million people took part in the strictest “Tier 4” measures as of Sunday, which corresponds to 31 percent of the English population.
They are not allowed to hold family reunions at Christmas, while in the rest of the country a limited number of households are only allowed to get together on Christmas Day and not the five days originally proposed.
Hancock said the situation was “dead serious”.
“It will be very difficult to keep it under control until we get the vaccine in place,” he said, adding, “This is what we have to do in the next few months.”
The UK is hoping to hit half a million vaccinations over the weekend, the health minister said.
The London Metropolitan Police said they would take action against those who “make reckless decisions that risk lives”.
As a result, other British regions have tightened their anti-virus measures.
Wales introduced a strict lockdown from Sunday, while Scotland banned travel to and from other regions of Britain at Christmas and announced that it would double its police presence along the English border.
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland will be locked again on December 26th. Northern Ireland should introduce additional measures on Sunday.
Scientists first discovered the new variant in a patient in September, Public Health England’s Susan Hopkins told Sky News.
She said scientists found out in November that the new strain was behind a string of cases in Kent that spread to London and Essex and notified the government on December 11th.
Public Health England then re-announced to the government on Friday when the modeling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain, she said.
She confirmed the number given by Johnson that the new strain of the virus could be 70 percent more transmissible, while saying this was an initial number.
“I think 70 percent seems like a good number to land on right now,” she said.
The virus was found in all regions of England, but in small numbers, Hopkins said.
Hancock said cases had also been identified in Australia and Europe.
Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said Saturday that the new strain contained 23 differences, including how the virus attaches to and penetrates human cells.
Simon Clarke, Associate Professor of Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, told AFP that the mutations affect the “spike protein” the virus studies and targets vaccines.
“When we look at the changes these mutations make to the spike protein that is intended for the vaccine, we don’t think they are enough to change the effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News that as many hospital patients in London are now infected with the virus as there were at the height of the first wave in April. The cases have also grown rapidly among 10 to 19 year olds, he said.
The grave situation sparked widespread criticism of the prime minister who promised last week not to “cancel Christmas”.
“Not much was understood about this mutated virus. But that uncertainty should have been enough for the Prime Minister to realize that it was time to end Christmas,” The Sunday Mirror wrote weekly.
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, accused Johnson of fear of making unpopular decisions.
Oxford Street in London is usually packed with Christmas shoppers but was almost deserted on Sunday.
Some passers-by said they supported the measures.
“It was necessary to do this beforehand, and making wild promises didn’t help the situation at all,” said David, a 59-year-old who works in the insurance industry.
But Richard Charles, a 32-year-old service worker, said the move was too fast.
“It shouldn’t be a dictation that happens overnight,” he said.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)