Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said more than 1,000 cases of a new variant of the virus had been identified, mainly in southeast England where the variant may be associated with a rapid rise in infection levels.
“Over the last week, we have seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire,” Hancock told the House of Commons in a statement.
“We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant, but no matter its cause, we have to take swift and decisive action,” he said.
The government imposed the toughened three-tiered system in England on Dec. 2 in an attempt to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
The toughened system followed directly after the end of the country’s second nationwide lockdown, which lasted four weeks.
When it ended, over 40 percent of citizens were placed straight into Tier 3, the highest tier of restrictions.
London, whose 9 million people and world-leading financial centre make it the engine of the British economy, is currently in Tier 2, the second-highest tier of restrictions.
The key differences between Tier 2 (high alert) and Tier 3 (very high alert) are that hospitality venues in Tier 2 may stay open, subject to an 11 p.m. curfew if they are operating as restaurants, and pubs can serve alcohol with substantial meals.
In Tier 3, however, pubs and other hospitality venues must close unless they are providing takeaway, click-and-collect, drive-through, or delivery services.
In Tier 3, socialising restrictions are also more stringent but people can go to their places of work and schools are told to stay open. But Hancock on Friday announced mass testing in parts of London, Kent and Essex. Two London boroughs, Greenwich and Islington, have unilaterally decided to close their schools.
Fight to Stay Afloat
The business sector has called for support in its fight to stay afloat.
“Moving into Tier 3 before Christmas is deeply disappointing for Londoners, and a terrible blow to the capital’s hospitality, leisure, and cultural sectors,” John Dickie, director of strategy and policy at business campaign group London First, said in a statement.
“Those businesses forced to close must be given the support they need to survive into the New Year,” he said.
Echoing the concerns, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement posted on Twitter that the tougher restrictions for London are “incredibly disappointing for our businesses who have suffered so much already this year.”
“We now urgently need much more government support for the sectors of our economy that are being hit the hardest including hospitality, culture, and leisure,” he said, and called for a lost income compensation scheme for affected businesses.
‘Completely Destroy’ Pubs
There has also been a strong reaction to the tightened restrictions from the already very hard hit hospitality sector.
“Moving into tier three is another nail in the coffin for London’s pubs, as well as those affected in parts of Hertfordshire and Essex,” and it “could completely destroy” many of them, Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said in a statement.
“It is cruel on hardworking publicans doing all they can to support their communities and invest in implementing all the required safety measures,” she added.
“Especially as the government’s own evidence shows pubs are safe.”
London was one of the first parts of the country to be hit by the CCP virus during the initial peak between March and May, but until recently a second wave has been more concentrated in northern and central England.
Data published last week by Public Health England showed case rates per 100,000 people in London stood at 191.8, putting the city ahead of regions that have stricter rules in place such as the West Midlands.
On the issue of the new virus variant, Hancock said there was currently nothing to suggest that it was likely to cause more serious disease or that it would not respond to a vaccine.