Cheshire and Warrington to enter Tier 3 restrictions from Boxing Day

Credit: PA

Cheshire and Warrington will move into Tier 3 restrictions from Boxing Day as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a variant of coronavirus was spreading at a "dangerous rate".

In an announcement this afternoon, Mr Hancock said the measures will include tough restrictions on mixing with people and the closure of non-essential shops.

The changes were made as Government figures showed a further 744 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, the highest such figure since April 29 during the first peak of the virus.

There were a further 39,237 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus as of 9am on Wednesday, the highest figure reported on a single day throughout the whole pandemic - although this is in part due to much wider testing.

Mr Hancock told a Downing Street press conference: "Just as we had got a tiered system in place that was able to control this virus we have discovered a new, more contagious virus - a variant that is spreading at a dangerous rate."

Mr Hancock warned: "This Christmas and the start of 2021 is going to be tough. The new variant makes everything much harder because it spreads so much faster.

"But we mustn't give up now, we know that we can control this virus, we know we can get through this together, we're going to get through it by suppressing the virus until a vaccine can make us safe."

The Health Secretary also set out details on the discovery of the "highly concerning" and "yet more transmissible" South African variant in the UK.

He said the two cases were contacts of people who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.

The Health Secretary said the cases and their close contacts have been quarantined.

He announced immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa and the Government is telling those who have been to the country in the last fortnight and their close contacts to quarantine immediately.

The law will be changed to cover the new restrictions, he added.

The challenge facing the Government was underlined by official estimates showing the R value, the average number of people someone with coronavirus infects, has increased to 1.1 to 1.3, up from 1.1 to 1.2 a week ago.

The number of new infections is growing by between 1% and 6% every day, up from 1% to 4% last week.