UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Christmas gatherings cannot take place and will have to close unnecessary stores in London and much of southern England as he has imposed new, higher levels of coronavirus restrictions on the region to help curb rapidly spreading infections.
Johnson said Saturday that the capital and other areas in southern England currently under Tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, will move to an even more stringent new Tier 4, which will feature non-essential shops, hairdressers and leisure facilities indoors must be closed after the end of Saturday business hours.
Johnson also said a planned five-day easing of socialization rules that would allow up to three households to meet in “Christmas bubbles” will be canceled for Tier 4 areas. Mixing households is only allowed under very limited conditions outdoors in public places.
He said that in the rest of England people are only allowed to gather in Christmas bubbles for one day, instead of December 23-27 as originally planned.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I have to tell you that we cannot continue Christmas as planned,” said Johnson.
He said he had concluded that “I have no alternative” and that people must sacrifice this Christmas to have a better chance of protecting the lives of their loved ones.
“I know how much emotion people put in this time of year and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren,” said Johnson. “But if the virus changes its method of attack, we will have to change our method of defense.”
When announcing the new Tier 4 category, which reflects many of the restrictions on public activity that were in place during the UK nationwide lockdown earlier this year, Johnson cited the rising rates of infection across much of southern England.
The Chief Medical Officer of England said Saturday that based on preliminary model data, a state virus advisory group believes a new strain of the virus identified this week is spreading faster.
“We said during this pandemic that we must all be guided by science. If science changes, we have to change our response,” he said.