The British government has been forced to tighten COVID-19 restrictions because a new variant of the CCP virus detected in England earlier this year has gone “out of control,” UK Health Minister Matt Hancock said on Dec. 20.
To stem its spread, the government reversed plans to ease curbs on family gatherings over the holiday season and announced that London and large swathes of Southeast England would come under “tier four” restrictions, which are broadly equivalent to the national lockdown in England in November.
“The new variant is out of control, and we need to bring it under control, and this news about the new variant has been an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year,” Hancock told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
The Netherlands and Belgium on Dec. 20 banned flights from the UK in order to prevent the new variant from spreading there. Belgium also suspended train links to Britain.
Hancock said “it’s important for everybody to act like they might have the virus.”
“What I’d say to every single person is that if you act like you have the virus, then that will stop the virus from spreading to others,” he said.
The health secretary said the rules for tier four were “incredibly clear” and said people should “stay at home unless you absolutely need to leave for one of the reasons that we set out.” The rules also prohibit travelling in and out of tier four areas.
Hancock condemned the behaviour of people who were filmed on Dec. 19 rushing to train stations to leave London before the lockdown measures came into force at midnight, calling them “totally irresponsible.”
“Of course we don’t want to cancel Christmas,” said Hancock. “We don’t want to take any of these measures, but it’s our duty to take them where the evidence is clear.”
Johnson said on Dec. 19 that there was currently no evidence to suggest the new variant affects the severity or mortality rate of the disease, or the effectiveness of vaccines.
Lily Zhou, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.