The UK capital moved from a Tier 2 high alert to Tier 3 very high alert level of coronavirus lockdown from Wednesday, amid a “very sharp” spike in Covid-19 cases in London and its surrounding areas and a new variant of coronavirus being identified as responsible for the faster spread.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock had informed the House of Commons earlier in the week that “swift and decisive action” was needed as the doubling rate of the deadly virus has hit just seven days in many of these areas. He, however, did try and downplay worries over the new variant, which scientists believe is not unusual in a virus like this and there is no evidence to show that it can be any more dangerous than other variants.
Hancock said: “A new variant of coronavirus has been identified in the UK, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the southeast of England.
“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 which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.
“We must act now to shift the curve… because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too."
The minister said that experts had identified over 1,000 cases with the new variant, predominantly in the south of England.
“Cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas and numbers are increasing rapidly. Similar variants have been identified in other countries over the last few months," he said, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been notified about the variant and that it is unlikely to cause more serious disease than other variants of the coronavirus.
England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has said that current coronavirus swab tests would detect the new variant that has been found, predominantly in Kent and neighbouring areas in recent weeks. The changes or mutations involve the spike protein of the virus – the part that helps it infect cells, and the target Covid-19 vaccines are designed around, which means the vaccines should still be effective against such a variant. However, it is too soon to know exactly what this will do to the behaviour of the virus in terms of the spread of infections.
Therefore, the government is urging people to observe strict social distance and hygiene rules of hands, face and space – washing of hands, using a face covering and keeping a good distance with anyone not part of your own household. Tier 3 restrictions mean people allowed to meet in outdoor settings only under limited conditions and restaurants, bars and pubs directed to shut except for takeaways and deliveries. This upgrade now means Greater London, the South and West of Essex and South Hertfordshire will remain in Tier 3 until the next round of tier review for these regions.