U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the new mutant strain of the coronavirus is “out of control”, and suggested parts of England would be stuck in the new highest tier of restrictions until a vaccine is rolled out.
More than 16 million Britons are now required to stay at home as a lockdown came into force Sunday in London and southeast England and the government scrapped plans to relax rules on socializing at Christmas in an attempt to control the fast-spreading new variant of the virus.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether the coronavirus is under control, Hancock said, “No, sadly”, adding that the situation now is “incredibly difficult”. The best gift that people could give for Christmas is to stay at home and not spread the virus, he said.
He added: “Everybody, particularly people in Tier 4 areas, needs to behave as if they might well have the virus – that is the only way we are going to get it under control.”
He said controlling the new strain of Covid-19 is “more important now than ever”, that people stick to the rules and reduce social contact “because this is deadly serious”.
“This is a deadly disease, we need to keep it under control, and it has been made more difficult by this new variant.”
And he said scenes of people queueing at train stations, rushing to leave London before the new measures came into force this morning, was “totally irresponsible behavior”.
People tried to leave London hours before the capital came under stricter #coronavirus rules.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 20, 2020
London and southeast England have been placed in the new Tier 4 of the Covid-19 alert system, which has varying curbs, from Tier 1 (lowest) to Tier 4 (toughest; equivalent to a full lockdown). People are prohibited from traveling to and out of a Tier 4 zone.
Hancock indicated in Sunday’s media interviews that London’s lockdown could last months until a vaccine is rolled out across the population. “There are no easy answers or easy options. I think the mistake would be to ignore new scientific evidence,” he added.
Scotland Yard commander Alex Murray said on Sunday, “I know Londoners will be deeply saddened by the news that the planned relaxation of the rules over the Christmas period has been scrapped. The news on the virus spread is stark and deeply concerning, and we must all now take immediate action to prevent the spread by staying at home and keeping ourselves safe.
“Across the city, officers will be deployed to take action against those people whose selfish action risks jeopardizing the health of Londoners. Likewise, we will continue our joint enforcement with London’s 32 local authorities – clamping down on those businesses that also flout the rules and put health at risk.”