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London to enter Christmas lockdown, citing "new variant" of the virus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a full lockdown on London, saying Saturday that Christmas celebrations cannot move forward and non-essential retailers must temporarily shutter amid a rapidly rising coronavirus infection rate.

The state of play: London, the southeast and eastern England, which are currently in Tier 3, will impose Tier 4 restrictions starting Sunday. Johnson said an expected Christmas Day reprieve — a planned five-day postponement of restrictions that would permit up to three households to convene in “Christmas bubbles” — will be canceled for Tier 4 zones.

  • The British government is urging people to stay home and advised people to work from home whenever possible.
  • People will not be allowed to leave or enter Tier 4 areas, and residents are prohibited from traveling abroad.
  • Nonessential retail, indoor gyms, leisure facilities and personal care services will close.
  • Religious gatherings will be allowed to continue.
  • Social gatherings must be limited, while people living in Tier 4 areas are strongly advised to remain within their own households.

What he's saying: "Yesterday afternoon I was briefed on the latest data that shows the virus spreading more rapidly in London, the southeast and the eastern England than would be expected given the tough restrictions that are already in place," Johnson said.

  • "It seems that the spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus," Johnson continued. "Our advisory group on new and emerging respiratory threats, NERVTAG, has spend the last few days analyzing this new variant — there's no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality, but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily."
  • "Although there's considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant, the original version of the disease."
  • "There's no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant."
  • "When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense," Johnson said. "We have to act on information as we have it, because this is now spreading very fast."

The big picture: Johnson held an emergency meeting with his Cabinet on Saturday to settle on the latest restrictions. British health officials have shared data on the suspected strain with the World Health Organization, the prime minister said in his announcement.

Worth noting: "The new measures, which take effect at the end of Saturday night, are designed, in effect, to cut off the capital and its surrounding counties from the rest of England," the New York Times writes. "They are the most severe measures the government has taken since it imposed a lockdown on the country back in March, and they reflect a fear that the new variant could supercharge the transmission of the virus as winter takes hold."

By the numbers: The U.K. has over 1.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 66,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins University data.

  • The country reported 28,560 daily cases on Friday.

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