London will move into England’s highest tier of COVID-19 restrictions, the government said on Monday, as it linked the increased infection rates to a new variant of the coronavirus.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said more than 1,000 cases of the new variant had been identified, mainly in southeastern England.
“Over the last week, we’ve seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. 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”, Hancock said, adding that the capital and some neighbouring areas would go into “High Alert” level.
This month, the government implemented a three-tiered system of restrictions in England, under which more than 40% of citizens were placed in the highest risk category, but London was left in the middle tier of restrictions.
Under the highest Tier 3 alert level, bars and restaurants can only operate takeaway services, but workplaces and schools can remain open.
The World Health Organization also confirmed that Britain had reported the variant, but added that mutations were not uncommon.
“There are many variants. It just happens that this one has quite a few more mutations than some of the other variants, so that’s the reason why we’ve taken it particularly seriously”, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said during a news conference with Hancock.