London and parts of south east England enter Tier 3 as restrictions review due
London, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire have entered Tier 3 after a spike in Covid-19 cases forced the government to act ahead of the formal restrictions review due to take place on Wednesday.
The south-east of England has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks and London only saw a modest decline in cases over the November lockdown.
All boroughs of Greater London entered the harshest level of restrictions at 00:01 on Wednesday.
Ahead of the review, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said there was a “clear case” for his region being moved down to Tier 2.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Mr Burnham also said he would understand if the Government wanted to “err on the side of caution”.
He added: “We have seen steady decreases across all of our boroughs pretty much ever since the last tiering decision, to the point where we are now essentially below the England average across the 10 boroughs – we are at 150 cases on average per 100,000 people, England averages 180.
“We are below London and below Liverpool when they went into Tier 2 originally.
“There is a clear case for Greater Manchester, or a large part of Greater Manchester, to be placed in Tier 2.”
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The places outside of London to be put under Tier 3 are south and west Essex including Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Malden, Braintree and Chelmsford along with Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea borough councils; and the south of Hertfordshire including Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority.
Large parts of the north which are still in Tier 3 now have substantially lower cases per 100,000 than London.
The first review into tiers is due to happen on Wednesday, two weeks after the system was put into place.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said one of the possible reasons for the rise in cases in the south is a new variant of coronavirus.
The government went public about the new variant on Monday saying it had been detected in around 60 local authorities but most cases were in the South.
The government and its scientific advisors have warned it appears the new variant can spread quicker than the normal coronavirus, but this has not yet been confirmed.
Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it is normal for viruses to mutate and people should not lose sleep over it.
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Speaking at a Covid briefing England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said there are three things to worry about when it came to new mutations: is it more dangerous? Can our tests detect it? And, will our vaccines work against it?
Professor Whitty said there was no evidence the new variant was more dangerous and it could be detected by our normal Covid-19 tests.
He also said there was no evidence the virus could get around the vaccine.
Because so few people had been inoculated against Covid, Prof Whitty said he would be "surprised" if the variant had mutated in a way that got around the vaccine.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the move to Tier 3 was “incredibly disappointing” for businesses but urged the capital’s residents to follow the rules.
He added: “The worst thing for London’s businesses and our economy would be yet another full lockdown in the new year.”
Some 34 million people in England are now living under Tier 3 restrictions well over half of the countries population of 56 million.
The move back into strict restrictions soon after the national lockdown ended has led many to question whether the planned relaxation of rules over Christmas is a good idea.
Scientists, medical professionals and the Labour Party have been urging the government to reconsider its plan amid rising Covid-19 cases. On Tuesday the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) said plans to ease rules at Christmas should be abandoned in order to bring down Covid-19 numbers ahead of a "likely third wave"
They urged the government to "reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down".
The leaders of the four nations of the UK are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss whether the rules - which would allow up to three household to mix for five days over Christmas - need to be changed.
ITV understands Boris Johnson has decided he won't change the rules for the people of England, but the leaders of the three other nations in the UK may decide a different course.