President Donald Trump has slammed the UK’s decision to impose new lockdown restrictions ahead of Christmas after a dangerous new strain of the coronavirus was detected in England, sparking fears it could soon reach the US.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced London and parts of southeast England will go into ‘Tier 4 lockdown’ – the highest level of the UK’s coronavirus alert system – starting at midnight.
The strict new measures, which affects millions, means all non-essential businesses must close and residents must stay at home until December 30, when officials will review the situation.
It comes amid a surge in cases in the region that doctors believe is being fueled by a fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains.
Although it is not believed to be more fatal, the mutant strain has raised fears of a potential outbreak in the US, which is already grappling with record-breaking rates of hospitalizations and virus-related deaths.
President Trump criticized the UK’s decision to impose strict lockdown restrictions in large parts of England on Saturday
Trump made clear the US would not be following suit, claiming the ‘cure cannot be worse than the problem itself’
President Trump on Saturday however made it clear the US would not be following suit with Johnson’s decision.
‘We don’t want to have lockdowns. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself!’ Trump said in a tweet replying to the news.
The president has repeatedly expressed he is against imposing another nationwide lockdown for the sake of the economy and struggling businesses.
Trump has been widely criticized for his response to the pandemic, which has now claimed the lives of more than 300,000 Americans and infected nearly 17.5million.
Britain’s Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance on Saturday said the new virus strain triggered a surge in cases in England in the last two weeks and may have already made its way to other areas.
‘This virus has taken off, it’s moving fast and it’s leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,’ Vallance said.
‘We think it may be in other countries as well. It may have started here, we don’t know for sure.’
Other countries have also reported variants of the virus, Reuters reported.
South Africa said on Friday one such strain was driving a second wave of infections there.
Boris Johnson is taking a Covid press conference today as he creates a new Tier 4 to tackle a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant
On Saturday, the UK reported 27,052 new COVID-19 cases and 534 deaths.
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
London now has the highest infection rates in England, and officials said the new mutation accounted for some 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.
England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the UK has alerted the World Health Organization that the new variant, identified this week as VUI202012/01, appears to be accelerating the spread of COVID-19.
What does a ‘Tier 4’ lockdown in the UK mean?
The Tier 4 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 government’s scientific advisers came to that conclusion based on preliminary modelling figures, and they are continuing to analyze the available data, he 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,’ Whitty said in a statement.
Whitty said the existing tier system was working in areas with a very low level of the new variant, but cases were rising fast in places where it was prominent.
However, Johnson, whose initial response to the pandemic was criticized for being too slow, has been slammed for the crackdown.
The move comes just days after the prime minister resisted calls to change plans for the Christmas period, saying it would be ‘frankly inhuman’ to ban it.
A planned easing of socializing rules would have allowed up to three households to meet in ‘Christmas bubbles’ from December 23 to December 27.
However, those now in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix with others over the Christmas holiday, while everyone else will be permitted to see friends and family only on the actual day, December 25.
Under Tier 4 lockdown – which affects about a third of England’s population – residents will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work.
Non-essential retail will close, as well as indoor leisure and entertainment, and social mixing will be limited to meeting one other person in an outdoor space.
The announcement tonight looks set to leave 17.7million people – around a third of the population of England – under the toughest Tier 4 lockdown
People wear face masks as they carry shopping bags walking past shop windows in Regent Street, in London, Thursday, December 3, 2020
‘It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned,’ Johnson said.
He said he concluded there was ‘no alternative open to me’ and people must sacrifice this Christmas to have a better chance of protecting the lives of loved ones.
No mixing of households will be allowed in Tier 4 except under very limited conditions outside in public places. Travel in and out of Tier 4 areas won’t be allowed unless essential.
In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of five, as the government originally planned.
The changes upend the plans of millions of people who were looking forward to gathering family and friends next week and force scores to revise their travel plans at the last minute.
Before Saturday, government officials maintained they would allow small, private gatherings to go ahead.
While restaurants, pubs, bars and theaters in much of England had to close Wednesday and were prepared for a bleak Christmas, all shops in Tier 4 areas that don’t sell food or medicine received only hours notice that they must shutter after Saturday until officials review the situation on December 30.
The British Retail Consortium said it was ‘hugely regrettable news,’ especially coming just two weeks after a month-long lockdown in England ended and at the height of the year´s peak retail period.
‘Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores COVID–secure for customers and staff,’ said Helen Dickinson, the trade body´s chief executive. ‘For businesses, the government´s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful.’
Britain has been one of the worst hit European countries – with more than 67,000 deaths linked to coronavirus and more than 2million cases reported.