New UK covid-19 variant, 70% more contagious, takes London back to total lockdown

Johnson cancels Christmas and reduces the easing of restrictions to one day

Quim Aranda
2 min
Boris Johnson, durant la conferència de premsa d'aquesta tarda, a Downing Street

LondonLondon and the south-east of the UK are returning to total lockdown. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has definitively cancelled the Christmas celebrations of 20 million people after scientists advising the British government warned that the new variant of the coronavirus, recently identified, is spreading much more rapidly and is behind the exponential increase in contagion of the last two weeks in the British capital. "Potentially, [the rate of transmission is] up to 70% faster", Johnson said at a press conference in Downing Street on Saturday afternoon.

The premier, however, commented that there is still "a high degree of uncertainty" and that all the data needs to be further analysed to certify this rapid spread. In any case, "it seems that it is now being driven by the new variant of the virus", Boris Johnson also said. Johnson's announcement came almost at the same time as the government released new daily infection figures (27,052), which bring the total to over two million since the start of the pandemic. The number of deaths counted in the last 24 hours is 534.

As of this Sunday, then, the hitherto tier 3 restrictions are raised to tier 4, and the rules of lockdown return to those of November. All non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and other leisure spaces will be forced to close for at least the next two weeks. At the same time, there is a call for contact between members of different bubbles to be limited to one person and only if it is outdoors. The rest of England also sees the Christmas bubble policy, which in principle allowed up to three different households to meet for five days, from 23 to 27 December, as only being possible on Christmas Day.

The new restrictions are falling like a bucket of ice-cold water on the commercial sector and the entertainment world - all restaurants already had to close on Tuesday. The slight easing of restrictions after the second lockdown, which began on 2 December, has only lasted 17 days. Johnson wanted to empathize with the millions of people affected: "I know how much emotion people feel at this time of year and how important it is, for example, for grandparents to see their grandchildren and for families to be together. So I know how disappointing it will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we have to be guided by science".

The government's chief science adviser, Patrick Vallance, who accompanied Johnson in the press conference, provided significant data to support the government's decisions. He reported that, most probably, "the new variant emerged in mid-September in London or Kent" and that it is responsible for "more than 60% of the infections in the capital". "It is advancing rapidly and is becoming the dominant variant", he concluded.