Huge queues have been seen at stations and on the roads as desperate Londoners flee the capital ahead of Tier 4 misery from Sunday.
On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that a third of England – including London and swathes of the home counties – will be thrust into a brutal ‘Tier 4’ lockdown from midnight.
The draconian bracket will see non-essential shops shut, and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’.
The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Johnson explained during a press briefing.
Christmas plans for millions of Londoners were thrown into doubt by the Prime Minister’s announcement, with many planning on travelling out of the capital during the relaxation of coronavirus measures between December 23 and 27.
But with the planned relaxation cancelled, and the new rules coming into force from midnight, people were tonight scrambling to get out of London while they still could.
Passengers faced packed train carriages out of London as many attempted to flee the capital following the announcement of tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Travellers were told that social distancing ‘will not be possible’ due to the volume of people on board, and those that felt ‘uncomfortable’ should not stay on the train.
Reacting to the announcement, Nigel Farage mockingly tweeted: ‘Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts, you have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939.’
People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight
By 7pm on Saturday evening, there were no trains available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.
Footage online showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.
Harriet Clugston said that people on board the trains had attempted to secure space for themselves, but that there was not enough room to do so.
‘As expected, train is crammed,’ she wrote on Twitter.
‘Announcement on Tannoy says social distancing ‘will not be possible’ due to volume and to get off if you are not comfortable with that.
‘People have tried to secure social distance by placing on seats but being asked to remove them by other passengers as the train is so full.’
Another woman, who did not wish to be named, said she and her partner had made the ‘split decision’ to take their young son to her parents’ home on the coast.
‘We just made the decision to leave based on the fact that my parents said come, and we couldn’t bear the thought of no fresh air and a toddler going rogue round a small flat for the foreseeable,’ she told the PA new agency.
People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday
‘We also really just felt we wanted to get the baby somewhere a bit safer with a garden, though we know a lot of people won’t have that luxury.
She added: ‘The grandparents are just desperately happy they’ll see their grandson.
‘We obviously worry about taking something down to them, but they seem happy to take the risk.’
Izzy, 22, from Bristol, said that she wanted ‘the security of being home for Christmas’ and that her parents had come to collect her before the restrictions came into effect.
‘I have a slight nervousness that they might block the roads or something stopping me going home,’ she said.
‘I’m moving out of my flat so I need my dad to come and get me and he feels more comfortable doing it before Tier 4 kicks in.’
Traffic seen on London’s A40 ahead of new coronavirus ‘Tier 4’ restrictions being imposed from midnight
Speaking during the press briefing after Tier 4 was announced, Professor Chris Whitty – Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government – told anyone who was packing their bag to get out of London to ‘please unpack it’.
‘The reason for that is […] In the South East, 43 percent of the virus is now this new variant, in East of England it’s 59 percent, and in London it’s 62 percent,’ he said.
Areas that are experiencing higher numbers of the new variant are seeing higher numbers of hospitalisations when compared with other areas in the North of England, he explained,
For the 18 million people in London and the South East who will be living under Tier 4 restrictions from midnight on Saturday, travel into and out of areas in other tiers has been prohibited.
‘It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,’ Johnson told a news conference. ‘I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.’
London and southeast England – about a third of the English population – are currently in the highest level of a three-tier system of rules but will now be placed in a new Tier 4 level.
People in that tier will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work, and non-essential retail will close, as will indoor leisure and entertainment. Social mixing will be limited to meeting one other person in an outdoor space.
Johnson had said on Friday he hoped England would not need a third lockdown after Christmas.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference on Saturday during which he announced Tier 4 for London and the South East of England, throwing Christmas plans for millions into chaos
He had also resisted calls to change plans to ease restrictions for five days over the festive period and allow three separate households to meet indoors. He said on Wednesday it would be ‘frankly inhuman’ to ban Christmas.
However, those now in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix with others over Christmas. And all others will now only be allowed to see friends and family for one day.
The new rules will come into effect from Saturday night at midnight.
Like other countries in Europe, Britain is battling to contain the virus. Johnson’s action comes after concern about a surge in cases, sparked by the new infectious strain of the virus – VUI202012/01.
It is the rate of infection that is worrying the government and its advisors.
‘There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,’ Johnson said. ‘Equally, there’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant.’
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said authorities had alerted the World Health Organization and were continuing to analyse the available data to improve their understanding of the new strain.
Britain reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and 534 deaths. The reproduction ‘R’ number is estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2, meaning the number of cases is rapidly increasing.
‘Failing to act decisively now, will mean further suffering,’ Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said on Twitter.
Britain has been one of the worst hit European countries – with more than 67,000 deaths linked to coronavirus and more than 2 million cases reported.
Christmas cancelled for 18m – a THIRD of England: PM plunges London and SE into brutal new Tier 4 after revealing 70pc-more-infectious Covid strain is rampant – and festive bubbles are cut to ONE day everywhere else including Wales and Scotland
- Boris Johnson is announcing dramatic strengthening of Covid-19 advice in South East England tonight
- London and a swathe of the home counties are being plunged into a draconian new Tier 4 from midnight
- He called emergency Cabinet meeting today on how to contain mutant strain ripping through the region
- Scientists have warned the variant is 50 per cent more contagious than any strain previously detected
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pushed for tighter restrictions all week as concerns continue to grow
Boris Johnson faced fury tonight as he dramatically cancelled Christmas for 18million people after hitting the panic button on a rampant new mutant strain of coronavirus.
The PM was accused of ‘inconsistency and confusion’ after the extraordinary last-minute U-turn to put a third of England, including London and swathes of the home counties, into a brutal new ‘Tier 4’ from midnight.
The draconian bracket means non-essential shops being forced to shut, and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’.
The rest of England will not escape unscathed, with up to three households now only allowed to mix on Christmas Day rather than between December 23 and 27.
Wales has also announced it is going into a full lockdown from midnight and will follow suit by slashing bubbles to a single day. Nicola Sturgeon said at her own press conference tonight that a ban on cross-border travel is being upgraded, and the law will be changed to cut bubbles to one day.
She also said that mainland Scotland will be in its top ‘Level 4’ squeeze from Boxing Day – at which point around 28million people across all four UK nations will be under the toughest restrictions.
There was a wave of anger from MPs and families that the decision has come just six days before Christmas, when millions have already made plans, booked travel and bought food for reunions.
A clearly uncomfortable Mr Johnson told the nation tonight that he had ‘no alternative’ but to act after being presented will compelling evidence only yesterday about the devastating spread of the new strain.
Although it does not appear to be any more deadly, it is believed to be much more contagious, accounting for an incredible 60 per cent of new cases in London over the past week.
Mr Johnson said it could increase the crucial R rate by 0.4 and be 70 per cent more transmissible than previous versions.
‘We must act now,’ he said, appealing for the public to ‘stay local’ and ‘raise a glass for people who are not there’. ‘We cannot continue with Christmas as planned…
‘I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren and families to be together.
‘So I know how disappointing this will be. But I have said throughout this pandemic that we must and will be guided by the science.’
He added: ‘As your Prime Minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me. Without action, the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.’
Chief science officer Patrick Vallance said there was no sign so far that the mutation would be able to nullify vaccines – reassuring news for around 350,000 people Mr Johnson revealed have now received their first dose.
‘This virus spreads more easily and therefore more measures are needed to keep it under control,’ he said.
He added: ‘Assume you might be infectious.’
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that danger was that people moving around the country would ‘seed’ the variant. ‘This is a bad moment,’ he said.
The new Tier 4 – dubbed the ‘stay at home alert level’ will be imposed on all existing Tier 3 areas in the South East, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It will also apply in London, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, and Essex – excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring.
The rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers.
However, places of worship can stay open.
People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots.
The rules will apply for at least two weeks, with the situation due to be considered at the next review point on December 30. Schools will not be affected immediately as they have broken up for Christmas – but it is not clear what will happen if the Tier 4 restrictions need to be maintained into January.
No10 has indicated that the measures will come into effect without a vote in Parliament because of the ‘incredibly fast moving’ events, and there are ‘no plans’ to recall MPs.
But the announcement infuriated many Tories who are sceptical about the effectiveness of lockdowns.
Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said the public must be given a ‘roadmap’ to restoring freedoms.
‘Given the 3 tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House,’ he said.
Former minister Sir Robert Syms added: ‘It is right and proper the Government recall Parliament (to) lay before Parliament the evidence and allow a vote on tier 4.’
Labour leader Keir Starmer said people would feel ‘very upset and heartbroken’. ‘The PM was saying three days ago ”have a merry little Christmas”,’ Sir Keir said.
‘Just when we need leadership we’ve got inconsistency and confusion.’
Boris Johnson is taking a Covid press conference today as he creates a new Tier 4 to tackle a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant
News of the latest crackdown came as countless Britons flocked to the country’s high streets (Oxford Street, pictured) and supermarkets today as they stocked up on Christmas essentials