Huge queues at train stations as desperate Londoners flee the capital ahead of Tier 4

Huge queues have been seen at stations and on the roads as desperate Londoners flee the capital ahead of Tier 4 misery from Sunday.

On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that a third of England – including London and swathes of the home counties – will be thrust into a brutal ‘Tier 4’ lockdown from midnight. 

The draconian bracket will see non-essential shops shut, and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’. 

The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Johnson explained during a press briefing.

Christmas plans for millions of Londoners were thrown into doubt by the Prime Minister’s announcement, with many planning on travelling out of the capital during the relaxation of coronavirus measures between December 23 and 27.

But with the planned relaxation cancelled, and the new rules coming into force from midnight, people were tonight scrambling to get out of London while they still could.

Passengers faced packed train carriages out of London as many attempted to flee the capital following the announcement of tougher coronavirus restrictions.

Travellers were told that social distancing ‘will not be possible’ due to the volume of people on board, and those that felt ‘uncomfortable’ should not stay on the train. 

Reacting to the announcement, Nigel Farage mockingly tweeted: ‘Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts, you have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939.’

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

By 7pm on Saturday evening, there were no trains available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston. 

Footage emerged of a large crowd queuing on a packed platform at London’s St Pancras Station to board the last train to Leeds before restrictions were introduced at midnight. 

Harriet Clugston said that people on board the trains had attempted to secure space for themselves, but that there was not enough room to do so.

‘As expected, train is crammed,’ she wrote on Twitter. ‘Announcement on Tannoy says social distancing ‘will not be possible’ due to volume and to get off if you are not comfortable with that.

‘People have tried to secure social distance by placing on seats but being asked to remove them by other passengers as the train is so full.’

Another woman, who did not wish to be named, said she and her partner had made the ‘split decision’ to take their young son to her parents’ home on the coast.

‘We just made the decision to leave based on the fact that my parents said come, and we couldn’t bear the thought of no fresh air and a toddler going rogue round a small flat for the foreseeable,’ she told the PA new agency.

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

‘We also really just felt we wanted to get the baby somewhere a bit safer with a garden, though we know a lot of people won’t have that luxury.

She added: ‘The grandparents are just desperately happy they’ll see their grandson.

‘We obviously worry about taking something down to them, but they seem happy to take the risk.’

Izzy, 22, from Bristol, said that she wanted ‘the security of being home for Christmas’ and that her parents had come to collect her before the restrictions came into effect.

‘I have a slight nervousness that they might block the roads or something stopping me going home,’ she said.

‘I’m moving out of my flat so I need my dad to come and get me and he feels more comfortable doing it before Tier 4 kicks in.’ 

Meanwhile, Edmund King, president of the AA, said that within 90 minutes of Boris Johnson’s bombshell announcement, there were reports of people jumping into cars and taxis and even hiring vehicles to escape London before draconian new rules were imposed at midnight.

‘There are certainly elements of an exodus of some people from tier 4,’ he told The Mail on Sunday. ‘I have heard of people actually hiring cars to get out of London to get to Liverpool because a lot of the trains are either restricted or booked.

‘We have even heard of taxi drivers taking people longer distances – people calling minicab offices and saying, “I need to get to Nottingham”.

‘It is almost like a wall is coming down around London and the South East and some people are scrambling to get away to save their Christmas before midnight.’

People under Tier 4 have also been banned from international travel, with Heathrow Airport tweeting that it was awaiting further guidance from the UK Government. People under Tier 3 restrictions are also being discouraged from travelling without a reasonable excuse.

Traffic seen on London's A40 ahead of new coronavirus 'Tier 4' restrictions being imposed from midnight

Traffic seen on London’s A40 ahead of new coronavirus ‘Tier 4’ restrictions being imposed from midnight

Speaking during the press briefing after Tier 4 was announced, Professor Chris Whitty – Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government – told anyone who was packing their bag to get out of London to ‘please unpack it’.

‘The reason for that is […] In the South East, 43 percent of the virus is now this new variant, in East of England it’s 59 percent, and in London it’s 62 percent,’ he said.

Areas that are experiencing higher numbers of the new variant are seeing higher numbers of hospitalisations when compared with other areas in the North of England, he explained, 

For the 18 million people in London and the South East who will be living under Tier 4 restrictions from midnight on Saturday, travel into and out of areas in other tiers has been prohibited.

‘It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,’ Johnson told a news conference. ‘I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.’

London and southeast England – about a third of the English population – are currently in the highest level of a three-tier system of rules but will now be placed in a new Tier 4 level.

People in that tier will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work, and non-essential retail will close, as will indoor leisure and entertainment. Social mixing will be limited to meeting one other person in an outdoor space.

High streets also descended into chaos on Saturday as shoppers were left with just hours to buy their Christmas gifts before shops close at midnight tonight in London and South East. 

Pictures from Oxford Street in London showed huge crowds of shoppers flooding the streets to get their last minute purchases in before the introduction of the Tier 4 measures. 

Johnson had said on Friday he hoped England would not need a third lockdown after Christmas. 

Pictured: People shopping on Oxford Street in central London on the last Saturday shopping day before Christmas. Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly

Pictured: People shopping on Oxford Street in central London on the last Saturday shopping day before Christmas. Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly

Pictured: Shoppers queue outside a shop in Oxford Street on Saturday night ahead of the introduction of Tier 4, announced by Boris Johnson on Saturday evening in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus

Pictured: Shoppers queue outside a shop in Oxford Street on Saturday night ahead of the introduction of Tier 4, announced by Boris Johnson on Saturday evening in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference on Saturday during which he announced Tier 4 for London and the South East of England, throwing Christmas plans for millions into chaos

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference on Saturday during which he announced Tier 4 for London and the South East of England, throwing Christmas plans for millions into chaos

Reacting to the announcement, Nigel Farage mockingly tweeted: 'Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts, you have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939'

Reacting to the announcement, Nigel Farage mockingly tweeted: ‘Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts, you have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939’

He had also resisted calls to change plans to ease restrictions for five days over the festive period and allow three separate households to meet indoors. He said on Wednesday it would be ‘frankly inhuman’ to ban Christmas.

However, those now in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix with others over Christmas. And all others will now only be allowed to see friends and family for one day. 

Like other countries in Europe, Britain is battling to contain the virus. Johnson’s action comes after concern about a surge in cases, sparked by the new infectious strain of the virus – VUI202012/01.

It is the rate of infection that is worrying the government and its advisors.

‘There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,’ Johnson said. ‘Equally, there’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant.’

Professor Whitty said authorities had alerted the World Health Organization and were continuing to analyse the available data to improve their understanding of the new strain.

Britain reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 534 deaths. The reproduction ‘R’ number is estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2, meaning the number of cases is rapidly increasing.

‘Failing to act decisively now, will mean further suffering,’ Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said on Twitter.

Britain has been one of the worst hit European countries – with more than 67,000 deaths linked to coronavirus and more than 2 million cases reported.

Christmas cancelled for 18m – a THIRD of England: PM plunges London and SE into brutal new Tier 4 after revealing 70pc-more-infectious Covid strain is rampant – and festive bubbles are cut to ONE day everywhere else including Wales and Scotland

  • Boris Johnson is announcing dramatic strengthening of Covid-19 advice in South East England tonight
  • London and a swathe of the home counties are being plunged into a draconian new Tier 4 from midnight  
  • He called emergency Cabinet meeting today on how to contain mutant strain ripping through the region
  • Scientists have warned the variant is 50 per cent more contagious than any strain previously detected
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pushed for tighter restrictions all week as concerns continue to grow 

Where will be in the new Tier 4 from midnight? 

Kent

Buckinghamshire

Berkshire

Surrey (excluding Waverley)

The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings

All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.

Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough

Hertfordshire

Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).

Boris Johnson faced fury tonight as he dramatically cancelled Christmas for 18million people after hitting the panic button on a rampant new mutant strain of coronavirus. 

The PM was accused of ‘inconsistency and confusion’ after the extraordinary last-minute U-turn to put a third of England, including London and swathes of the home counties, into a brutal new ‘Tier 4’ from midnight.

The draconian bracket means non-essential shops being forced to shut, and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’. 

The rest of England will not escape unscathed, with up to three households now only allowed to mix on Christmas Day rather than between December 23 and 27. 

Wales has also announced it is going into a full lockdown from midnight and will follow suit by slashing bubbles to a single day. Nicola Sturgeon said at her own press conference tonight that a ban on cross-border travel is being upgraded, and the law will be changed to cut bubbles to one day.

She also said that mainland Scotland will be in its top ‘Level 4’ squeeze from Boxing Day – at which point around 28million people across all four UK nations will be under the toughest restrictions.   

There was a wave of anger from MPs and families that the decision has come just six days before Christmas, when millions have already made plans, booked travel and bought food for reunions. 

A clearly uncomfortable Mr Johnson told the nation tonight that he had ‘no alternative’ but to act after being presented will compelling evidence only yesterday about the devastating spread of the new strain. 

Although it does not appear to be any more deadly, it is believed to be much more contagious, accounting for an incredible 60 per cent of new cases in London over the past week.

Mr Johnson said it could increase the crucial R rate by 0.4 and be 70 per cent more transmissible than previous versions.

‘We must act now,’ he said, appealing for the public to ‘stay local’ and ‘raise a glass for people who are not there’. ‘We cannot continue with Christmas as planned…

‘I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren and families to be together.

‘So I know how disappointing this will be. But I have said throughout this pandemic that we must and will be guided by the science.’ 

He added: ‘As your Prime Minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me. Without action, the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.’

Chief science officer Patrick Vallance said there was no sign so far that the mutation would be able to nullify vaccines – reassuring news for around 350,000 people Mr Johnson revealed have now received their first dose. 

‘This virus spreads more easily and therefore more measures are needed to keep it under control,’ he said.

He added: ‘Assume you might be infectious.’ 

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that danger was that people moving around the country would ‘seed’ the variant. ‘This is a bad moment,’ he said. 

What are the new Tier 4 rules? 

The Tier 4 rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. 

Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers. 

However, places of worship can stay open. 

People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots. 

The new Tier 4 – dubbed the ‘stay at home alert level’ will be imposed on all existing Tier 3 areas in the South East, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.

It will also apply in London, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, and Essex – excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring.

The rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers. 

However, places of worship can stay open. 

People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots. 

The rules will apply for at least two weeks, with the situation due to be considered at the next review point on December 30. Schools will not be affected immediately as they have broken up for Christmas – but it is not clear what will happen if the Tier 4 restrictions need to be maintained into January. 

No10 has indicated that the measures will come into effect without a vote in Parliament because of the ‘incredibly fast moving’ events, and there are ‘no plans’ to recall MPs.

But the announcement infuriated many Tories who are sceptical about the effectiveness of lockdowns. 

Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said the public must be given a ‘roadmap’ to restoring freedoms. 

‘Given the 3 tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House,’ he said. 

Former minister Sir Robert Syms added: ‘It is right and proper the Government recall Parliament (to) lay before Parliament the evidence and allow a vote on tier 4.’ 

Labour leader Keir Starmer said people would feel ‘very upset and heartbroken’. ‘The PM was saying three days ago ”have a merry little Christmas”,’ Sir Keir said. 

‘Just when we need leadership we’ve got inconsistency and confusion.’   

Boris Johnson is taking a Covid press conference today as he creates a new Tier 4 to tackle a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant  

News of the latest crackdown came as countless Britons flocked to the country's high streets (Oxford Street, pictured) and supermarkets today as they stocked up on Christmas essentials

News of the latest crackdown came as countless Britons flocked to the country’s high streets (Oxford Street, pictured) and supermarkets today as they stocked up on Christmas essentials

Fury at Boris’s last-minute Christmas U-turn as Britons say they’ll IGNORE the new rules and complain it’s ‘just in time for everyone to have spent money on presents, food and booze’ 

Britons have been left furious by Boris Johnson‘s cancellation of Christmas for millions in London and the South East with just a few days’ notice.  

The PM held an emergency press conference this afternoon in which he shifted swathes of the home counties, including London, up to a new ‘Tier 4’. 

That bracket includes closing non-essential shops and travel restrictions including ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself, even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that five-day festive ‘bubbles’ would go ahead.

The extraordinary U-turn has caused outrage among families that have already made plans, booked travel and bought food for reunions, with many taking to social media to vent their fury.

One devastated user said: 'I'm sorry but my family have spent money on food for my family who are all coming in the next few days. I see my family twice a year and I am absolutely devastated like I cannot explain how upsetting and disheartening this is.'

One devastated user said: ‘I’m sorry but my family have spent money on food for my family who are all coming in the next few days. I see my family twice a year and I am absolutely devastated like I cannot explain how upsetting and disheartening this is.’

A defiant tweeter said: 'Already made plans and spent money to visit family, not gonna stay home alone for Christmas on 4 days notice.'

A defiant tweeter said: ‘Already made plans and spent money to visit family, not gonna stay home alone for Christmas on 4 days notice.’

Another added: 'If you lock us all over over Christmas - meaning families who have spent hundreds of pounds preparing to see loved ones - then you have proven what an utterly incompetent leader you and your cabinet are. Shame on you.'

Another added: ‘If you lock us all over over Christmas – meaning families who have spent hundreds of pounds preparing to see loved ones – then you have proven what an utterly incompetent leader you and your cabinet are. Shame on you.’

A fourth said: 'Strangely just in time for everyone to have spent on presents for their bubbles, food and booze orders.'

A fourth said: ‘Strangely just in time for everyone to have spent on presents for their bubbles, food and booze orders.’

One devastated user said: ‘I’m sorry but my family have spent money on food for my family who are all coming in the next few days. I see my family twice a year and I am absolutely devastated like I cannot explain how upsetting and disheartening this is.’ 

A defiant tweeter said: ‘Already made plans and spent money to visit family, not gonna stay home alone for Christmas on 4 days notice.’

Another added: ‘If you lock us all over over Christmas – meaning families who have spent hundreds of pounds preparing to see loved ones – then you have proven what an utterly incompetent leader you and your cabinet are. Shame on you.’

A fourth said: ‘Strangely just in time for everyone to have spent on presents for their bubbles, food and booze orders.’

Another said: ‘After job loss, emergency international move, illness, breakdown, and everything else, I just desperately needed something to look forward to. Honeymoon fitted the bill, but was cancelled three times. Christmas was the next best thing. I spent weeks working on menus, precautions.’ 

Others tried to see the funny side by sharing memes, including one depicting the Prime Minister’s latest U-turn and another comparing him going round in circles to Will Ferrell’s character in the Christmas film, Elf. 

The Cabinet had crisis talks this afternoon on how to contain the mutant strain, which is so far thought to have been confined largely to the South East. Michael Gove also held talks with the devolved administrations.

As Mr Johnson spoke, it emerged that UK coronavirus cases were up 25 per cent on last Saturday at 27,052.

It means the total number of infections has topped two million.

Another 534 people have died – 14 more than last Saturday and 45 more than yesterday.

Speculation had already been mounting that England will have to follow Wales and Northern Ireland in announcing a draconian crackdown for after Christmas. 

The Welsh government previously broke ranks with the rest of the UK by scaling back Christmas bubbles, in effect from December 23 to 27, from three to two households.

And tonight First Minister Mark Drakeford said its Level 4 lockdown will come into effect from midnight, rather than waiting until December 28. 

‘The latest evidence suggests this new strain is present throughout Wales,’ Mr Drakeford said. ‘The situation is incredibly serious. I cannot overstate this.

‘We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the alert level four restrictions for Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England.

‘These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight instead of during the Christmas period.

‘This will mean non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms and leisure centres and hospitality will close at the end of trading today. Stay-at-home restrictions will also come into effect from midnight.’

Nicola Sturgeon will hold a press conference later to say whether Scotland is following suit by scaling back bubbles. 

Pushed on why he had resisted calls to drop the Christmas bubbles for so long before finally changing course, Mr Johnson admitted that he had been ‘very puzzled’ by the fact that infections kept rising in Kent and some other places during the blanket lockdown.

‘Clearly there was something going on,’ he said. 

But he also pointed out that many other countries were being forced to overhaul their restrictions. ‘I want to stress we are not alone in this fight – many of our European friends and neighbours are being forced to take similar action,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘We are working closely with the devolved administrations to protect people in every part of the UK.’

Trying to strike a more optimistic note despite the turmoil, Mr Johnson said: ‘Of course there is now hope – real hope – that we will soon be rid of this virus.

‘That prospect is growing with every day that passes and every vaccine dose administered.’ 

Mr Johnson said that Christmas this year would be a chance to ‘lift a glass to those that aren’t there’ in the hope that increased restrictions would allow families to meet again in the new year.

He said that bubbles for elderly and lonely people would provide ‘consolation’ for cancelled festive plans.

‘I would say to those who are now having a much reduced Christmas, of course we bitterly regret that this is necessary this year,’ he said.

‘I know how much love and care and thought goes into preparations for Christmas.

‘The message is that this is the year to lift a glass to those who aren’t there in the knowledge that it’s precisely because they’re not there to celebrate Christmas with you this year, that we all have a better chance that they’ll be there next year.’

Asked if had been was ‘reckless to promise five days of Christmas against scientific advice’, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve always taken account of scientific advice, always tried to follow it and that is what we’re doing today.

‘Because the science is clearly changing and has changed in the sense that our understanding of this new virus, its transmissibility, has been radically shifted just in the last 24 hours.’

Mr Johnson added: ‘We simply can’t ignore that and that’s why we’re taking these extra steps today to protect the country.’

Sir Patrick said: ‘I think one way to think about it is assume you could be infectious.

‘It’s not somebody else’s issue, it’s your own issue, you might be infectious and that’s the way that we have to behave at this moment. Assume you might be infectious.’

Mr Johnson said it ‘can’t be stressed too often’ that a lot of coronavirus transmission was by people who do not have symptoms at the time.

The Prime Minister added: ‘I don’t think people still now fully get that, in a way that perhaps they need to, it’s absolutely vital I think.

‘I think one in three infections are transmitted asymptomatically still and people really need to realise that.’

Mr Johnson dodged on whether police would stop people travelling home over the festive period or knock on doors on Christmas Day.

He said that officers had so far done an ‘amazing job’ of ‘light touch’ policing and that the public had been generally compliant.

‘(People) naturally want to do it themselves,’ he said.

‘The bulk of the population do it themselves and get it right and they’ll continue to do so.’

At her own briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon admitted the developments ‘make me want to cry’ as she announced a ‘strict travel ban’ over the festive period – even though she stressed that Scotland has much lower infections currently.

Sturgeon admits she ‘wants to cry’ as she imposes Xmas travel ban 

Nicola Sturgeon admitted the latest Covid setback ‘makes me want to cry’ as she announced a ‘strict travel ban’ over Christmas.

The easing of restrictions of indoor household mixing will only apply on Christmas Day and all of Scotland will be placed into Level 4 restrictions from Boxing Day for at least two week. 

‘In order to reduce the risk of more of the strain being imported into Scotland, we intend to maintain a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK,’ she said.

‘Unfortunately, and I am genuinely sorry about this, that ban will remain in place right throughout the festive period.

‘We simply cannot risk more of this new strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it.

‘That means people from Scotland not visiting other parts of the UK, and vice versa.

‘Cross-border travel for all but the most essential purposes is not permitted.’

She added: ‘It makes me want to cry. I know how unfair it is but this virus is unfair.’ 

The easing of restrictions of indoor household mixing will only apply on Christmas Day and all of Scotland will be placed into Level 4 restrictions from Boxing Day for at least two week. 

‘In order to reduce the risk of more of the strain being imported into Scotland, we intend to maintain a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK,’ she said.

‘Unfortunately, and I am genuinely sorry about this, that ban will remain in place right throughout the festive period.

‘We simply cannot risk more of this new strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it.

‘That means people from Scotland not visiting other parts of the UK, and vice versa.

‘Cross-border travel for all but the most essential purposes is not permitted.’

She added: ‘It makes me want to cry. I know how unfair it is but this virus is unfair.’ 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said Mr Johnson’s move was a ‘bitter blow’ and the public was ‘paying the price’ for ‘irresponsible promises’ that Christmas would be fine.

‘London faces its toughest Christmas since the war and the whole city will need to pull together to see us through this terrible period,’ he said.

‘Implementing restrictions is not enough – it is imperative that the Government vastly increase mass testing as a matter of urgency.

‘Providing greater financial support to businesses and the self-employed, currently woefully insufficient, is crucial.

‘The Government needs to put in place a compensation scheme for all lost income for the festive period, as well as a package of full pay for those who are required to self-isolate.

‘Face coverings should be made mandatory in all busy outdoor public places.

‘London and the country are paying the price for the Government’s continued failure to get a handle on the pandemic. This continued chaos and confusion could all have been avoided had the Government not made irresponsible promises to the public and raised expectations about the Christmas period.

‘I urge Londoners to follow the new restrictions very closely, so that we can protect our NHS and prevent more tragic deaths. ‘It would be such a tragedy to lose even more people to this disease when the vaccine is now being rolled out across our city and those lives could be saved.’

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said trust chiefs had wanted tough restrictions to curb infection rates.

‘These changes were inevitable given how rapid the infection rates have been rising in London, South East and parts of the East of England due to the new variant,’ he said.

‘Trust leaders have consistently called for the restrictions to be as tough as needed to cut infection rates.

‘It is therefore right that the Government has acted quickly to avert significant extra deaths and levels of harm.’

‘The worst moment of the pandemic’: New ‘Super-Covid’ strain is 70% MORE infectious 

The mutant strain of coronavirus is 70 per cent more infectious and makes up 60 per cent of London’s new cases, it was revealed today.

Speaking at an emergency press conference this afternoon, Boris Johnson warned the strain – which has caused a spike in cases in the south – could increase the crucial R rate by 0.4.

But England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty earlier stressed there is nothing to suggest that new strain ‘VUI – 202012/01’ is more deadly or resistant to a vaccine.

The variant has caused the PM to dramatically cancel Christmas for millions of people in a shock announcement this afternoon.

A third of England – including London and swathes of the home counties – will be shifted up to a brutal new ‘Tier 4’ from midnight.

The draconian bracket will see non-essential shops shut and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’.

British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall said: ‘Christmas was already cancelled for many businesses, but even more will now suffer as a result of this last-minute decision.

‘While Government must act on public health concerns, it must also address the economic consequences of its actions. Will there be more help for firms being forced to shut their doors – and for those who have paid for stock they now can’t sell? What support will there be for companies whose cash flow projections have once again been thrown into chaos?

‘The introduction of an additional tier without warning or additional help is a huge blow to businesspeople who wanted nothing more than to be able to trade safely through the holiday season and beyond.’

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the Government’s ‘stop-start’ approach to regulations was ‘deeply unhelpful’.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: ‘We recognise that the Government has difficult decisions to make and the situation with the pandemic is very fast moving, but this is hugely regrettable news.

‘Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff.

‘The consequences of this decision will be severe.

‘For businesses, the government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful – this decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and right in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.

‘Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £2 billion per week in sales for the third time this year – many businesses will be in serious difficulty and many thousands of jobs could be at risk.’

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is facing the prospect of a huge revolt from Tory MPs after Parliament was sent into recess on Thursday – and No10 indicated it will not be recalled to approve the new Tier.

Mr Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tories, demanded the Commons be brought back for a debate and vote on the changes.

‘This is a very sad day. Lockdowns and increasingly severe tiered restrictions have failed in their goal of slowing the transmission of Covid,’ the former chief whip said.

‘And now the Government is expecting people to sacrifice the chance to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, just a few days after promising the opposite.

‘If the Government wants the support of the public and Parliament, it must publish a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish, cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.

‘More immediately, given the three-tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House.’

The latest estimates of the R number – the average number of others infected by each person with the disease – from SAGE yesterday was between 1.1 and 1.2 in the UK. 

It is the first time the reproductive number has definitely been above the crucial mark since the first week of the national lockdown last month.

In England, the rate stands even higher at between 1.1 and 1.3, while experts warned it might be as high as 1.4 in the East, and 1.3 in both London and the South East. 

Last week, Britain’s R number – which doesn’t represent Friday’s outbreak – was between 0.9 and 1.  

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