Much of South West to go into Tier 3 on Boxing Day - including Bristol, Gloucestershire and Swindon

Bristol and the surrounding areas are returning back into Tier 3. Credit: ITV News West Country

The Government has reclassified large parts of the West of England into Tier 3

Bristol, Somerset, North Somerset, Gloucestershire and Swindon will move into 'Tier 3 - Very High Alert' as of Boxing Day. The new restrictions will begin at 12.01am.

The Government announced the tougher restrictions on Wednesday 23 December, amid rising coronavirus rates. Cornwall is also being moved from Tier 1 to Tier 2.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there are "early signs" of the new variant in parts of the South West.

"We are also taking action in parts of the South West where there are some early signs of the new variants and where cases are rising.

"Even though case rates in some of these areas are not as high as they are in the areas badly affected - in London and in Kent - the direction is quite clear and in many cases quite stark."

He added: "Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Chesire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3.

"And I'm afraid that Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen sharply rising rates and need to be escalated to Tier 2."

The rate for the South West is 122.5 per 100,000 - the lowest rate in the country.

The current rate of infection in Bristol is 143 new cases per 100,000 population.

The Director of Public Health in Somerset says she and her colleagues had started to become suspicious there was a different variation coming through.

Trudi Grant told ITV News West Country: "We started to notice a difference in our transmission rates around the middle of November where we started to see far bigger outbreaks than we were previously seeing."

How have the rules changed?

Under Tier 2, Pubs and restaurants could open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm - but alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal.

In Tier 3, Hospitality businesses, such as bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, and social clubs must close except for takeaway, delivery and click and collect services. This includes restaurants and bars within hotels or member’s clubs.

The new strain

The Department for Health said there is a new variant circulating in England.

In a statement, it said: "The strain shows apparent increased transmissibility. There is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality, but this is still under investigation. "

They confirmed at least one case of the new variant has been identified in 144 lower tier local authorities, and added: "The evidence shows that infection rates in geographical areas where this particular variant has been circulating have increased faster than expected, and the modelling evidence has demonstrated that this variant has a higher transmission rate than other variants in current circulation.

"Speed of case rate growth is closely correlated with presence of the new variant."

Read more: