U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed London and parts of southeast England under a full lockdown Saturday as the government struggled to stop the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus.
Johnson had planned to ease pandemic restrictions for five days around Christmas, but will now ban household mixing in London and southeast England and will restrict inter-household social gatherings in the rest of the country to just Christmas Day, according to Bloomberg News.
The prime minister urged citizens to “stay local” and avoid traveling and placed hot-spot areas around London under new “Tier 4” restrictions beginning Sunday. Under the restrictions, all non-essential business will close, millions will be required to stay home and all foreign travel is banned except for essential purposes.
The new rules will be reviewed on December 30.
“When the virus changes its method of attack we must change our method of defense,” Johnson said in a news conference. “Without action the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.”
Evidence suggests the new virus strain that has emerged in the U.K. can spread more quickly than previous strains and is the driving force behind a recent spike in infections.
Coronavirus case rates have almost doubled in the capital over the past week. Nearly 60 percent of those infections have been caused by the new strain of the virus, government officials said.
“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this,” said England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said. “Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”