London and the South East could be "cut off" from the rest of the UK by potential travel bans as a new "highly contagious" variant of coronavirus roams the region.
Boris Johnson could already announce a strengthening of the Covid-19 advice today after a meeting at which the ministers are said to have discussed how the mutant tribe should be contained.
So far this has been limited to London and the South East. Scientists warn that the new variant is 50 percent more contagious than any previously discovered strain.
A source told the Daily Telegraph that Downing Street could restrict travel to and from the southeast, while other proposed measures could prevent commuters from entering London.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been pushing for tighter restrictions all week, but high-level government sources insist there are currently no plans for a third national lockdown or a fourth tier – although proposals are believed to have been worked out.
The Prime Minister is believed to have received new evidence of the harmfulness of the mutant strain last night.
Professor Sir Mark Walport – a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) – said there was a real possibility that this could have a "carry-over benefit".
"What happens to viruses is they naturally mutate all the time and those that are likely to do well increase transmission," he told BBC2's Newsnight.
& # 39; We know this is a new variant seen in other countries, but it appears to be pretty widespread, suggesting that it has a carry-over advantage.
“Scientists are working very hard to find out what is going on. But it definitely seems possible that this could be carried over more easily.
"It will make social distancing even more critical."
It came after data was released yesterday that was used to justify inclusion of 38 million people in Tier 3, with the R number in the UK rising again above one.
A series of charts have been released by the Joint Biosecurity Center (JBC), the secret Whitehall organization tasked with assigning the Whack-a-Mole style locks after putting parts of the Southeast in the strictest brackets as part of the first shake -Up of the system since the end of the national shutdown.
They highlight the north-south divide that has formed since the country was excluded on December 2nd. London and the home countries are now bearing the brunt of the winter wave and epidemic in the northern tier 3 areas.
In the former hotspot regions of the North East and Yorkshire, a sea of green has emerged since the lifting of national intervention, representing shrinking eruptions. The infections are now concentrated in and around London and its commuter belt.
London and the South East could be "cut off" from the rest of the UK as travel banned as a new "highly contagious" variant of coronavirus roams the regions. Pictured: Oxford Street on Friday
Huge swaths of the Southeast were bumped into the toughest Covid restrictions on Wednesday after "sharp and exponential" growth in some cases
As of today, 70 percent of England will be living under the toughest restrictions, despite significant differences in case rates between rural and urban areas within counties, and now a new gross lockdown looms in the New Year.
The Department of Health recorded 28,507 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, a third more than 21,672 last Friday, and 489 deaths, up 14 percent from a week ago.
SAGE now estimates the Covid R rate – the average number of other people infected with the disease by each person – in the UK between 1.1 and 1.2. It is the first time since the first week of national lockdown last month that the reproduction count is definitely above the all-important mark.
In England, the rate is even higher, between 1.1 and 1.3, while experts warned it could be 1.4 in the east and 1.3 in London and the south-east. Last week, the UK R number – which doesn't represent today's breakout – was between 0.9 and 1.
Mr Johnson, grilled by reporters on a visit to Bolton today, refused to rule out another blanket lockdown in England – similar to those previously announced for Wales and Northern Ireland – despite 38 million people already facing the toughest Tier 3 curbs are.
Any escalation could potentially mean that the order to stay home will be restored and unnecessary stores will have to be closed. When asked about the prospect of a new lockdown when visiting Bolton, Mr Johnson said, “We really hope we can avoid this. "But the reality is that infection rates have risen very sharply in the past few weeks."
The increasingly dire situation raised further questions regarding the decision to push the Christmas bubbles forward, which means three households will be able to mix freely between December 23rd and 27th. Mr Johnson urged people to have a minimum of sociability.
However, union leader Keir Starmer today called for the prime minister to take immediate action to avert a disaster by lowering the limit to two households. "What are you doing now to prevent a third ban?" he said.
NHS chiefs have warned hospitals are already creaking under the strain, fearing a "tsunami" of patients in January. However, today's analysis of the NHS data by MailOnline found that hospitals are still quieter than last year at this time, and intensive care units have more space than last December.
Sir Mark said the country was in "a grave situation" on the way into the new year.
& # 39; The number of infections is currently very high. In London, in the south east east of England, it's increasing pretty quickly, ”he said.
“Even in those parts of the country where infection is under control, cases remain stubbornly high, so the NHS is under great pressure.
"We're going into a pretty serious situation in January where we need some pretty strong social distancing measures. If the virus changes, it's even more compelling."
His comments come after a government source told the Mail, “There is growing concern about the new strain and how quickly it will be transmitted.
The ministers are considering what measures could be taken as a result. Everyone is very concerned – when it transmits faster and is just as harmful, there are concerns. & # 39;
But they added, "There is still no evidence that it is more harmful."
A Whitehall insider told The Sun, "This is a fluid situation, but it doesn't look good and we need to act quickly."
British experts have so far found more than 1,000 people with the new variant VUI – 202012/01, Health Minister Matt Hancock informed the House of Commons on Monday.
There have been reports of the tribe in at least 60 local authorities and it is believed to be similar to other tribes in Europe, he claimed.
The fast-spreading tribe is believed to originate from Kent before spreading to London and the home countries.
Boris Johnson could announce further tightening of Covid-19 restrictions today – after convening a meeting of high-level ministers last night to discuss how the mutant strain can be contained
The strain has previously been restricted to London and the southeast, and scientists warned that the new variant is 50 percent more contagious than anyone previously discovered. Pictured: Oxford Street on Friday
The Prime Minister is believed to have received new evidence of the harmfulness of the mutant strain last night. Pictured: London on Friday
It is understood that families in these areas are advised to stay home over Christmas, regardless of whether these travel restrictions are imposed.
Huge swaths of the Southeast were bumped into the toughest Covid restrictions on Wednesday after "sharp and exponential" growth in some cases.
Even so, up to three households in the UK are allowed to form a “Christmas Bubble” between December 23rd and 27th under the rules announced by the government before Christmas.
Scientists fear that this temporary easing of restrictions could help spread the new variant of Covid, which is believed to be behind the spate of cases in southern England.
Boris Johnson said Friday that it was "important" that people start minimizing contact with people outside their bladders to "avoid passing the virus on to loved ones at Christmas".
In a message on Twitter, he added, “If you are creating a Christmas bubble, it's important that starting today you minimize contact with anyone outside your household.
"Everyone must take personal responsibility to avoid the virus being passed on to loved ones at Christmas."
Swathes of the Home Counties will be coming to London today in Tier 3, while Manchester and the North East have been told they couldn't go down a class despite fewer cases
He added that the three household limit was "a maximum" and not a "goal to aim for".
The Department of Health recorded 28,507 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours on Friday, a third more than 21,672 in the last week, and 489 deaths, up 14 percent from a week ago.
SAGE now estimates the Covid R rate – the average number of other people infected with the disease by each person – in the UK between 1.1 and 1.2.
It is the first time since the first week of national lockdown last month that the reproduction count is definitely above the all-important mark.
In England the rate is even higher, between 1.1 and 1.3, while experts warned it could be 1.4 in the east and 1.3 in London and the south-east.
Last week, the UK R number – which doesn't represent Friday's outbreak – was between 0.9 and 1.
Professor Chris Whitty said at a press conference on Downing Street on Monday it was possible the strain of Covid-19 ripping through southern England is more contagious than the regular coronavirus.
He said, “The main reason we bring this to people's attention is whether it is spreading faster. It may or may not be "cause and effect". "
However, the chief doctor said there was "no evidence" that it was more dangerous or that it could slip past Covid-19 vaccines or tests.
He added, "There isn't much selective pressure on this virus and so it would be surprising – not impossible, but quite surprising – if this virus actually evolved to bypass the vaccine."
No information has been publicly released about the strain and it does not appear to exist in scientific studies, nor to be associated with any of the other mutations found in Europe.
Other versions of the coronavirus were found throughout the year, and experts say it is perfectly normal for the virus to change as it spreads and there is nothing to be concerned about.
Variants D614G and 20A.EU1 have been found to be widespread and spread faster than original versions from East Asia, but not more deadly.
Meanwhile, it was claimed last night that a draconian Tier-Four-Covid regime could shut down stores and see commuters work from home.
The plans are being worked out to avoid a third national lockdown – however, they would include curbs as tough as previous closings.
Officials are alarmed at the fatal increase in virus cases since the second lockdown ended over two weeks ago. Scientific advisors circulated the idea of a fourth stage last month, only to be rejected by ministers.
However, a government source told the Mail last night that the proposal was back on the table. "The Department of Health is pulling out the folder that says Tier Four," the insider said.
“We're not there yet, but we are clearly in a worrying situation. It likely starts with shutting down unnecessary retail stores and strengthening the work from home.
"But there are a lot of things you could add – it's early days." Other sectors likely to be considered for Tier 4 closure are gyms, swimming pools, and hairdressers.
During a visit to Bolton yesterday, the Prime Minister was asked if England should follow the lead of Wales and Northern Ireland, which announced plans for lockdowns later this month.
He replied, “We sincerely hope that we can avoid this. However, the reality is that infection rates have risen very sharply in the past few weeks. & # 39;
Boris Johnson (pictured in Bolton, Greater Manchester) was asked if England should follow the lead of Wales and Northern Ireland, which announced plans for lockdowns later this month
Former party chairman Sir Iain Duncan Smith has warned that a third lockdown "would never get past the party".
School Secretary Nick Gibb earlier insisted that England's tier system, which parts of south and east England will now switch to tier three, is "very effective".
But he added "we're not ruling anything out" when asked about the possibility of a national lockdown after Christmas.
First Welsh Minister Mark Drakeford, who ordered a third shutdown from December 28th, suggested yesterday that England would almost certainly follow suit. "They too will face increasing numbers and further action must be taken," he said.
Katherine Henderson, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, urged ministers "to do everything possible to get the situation under control so that we can vaccinate people and then move forward".
Any attempt to impose a third ban will spark a major Tory backlash.
34 Conservative MPs voted against the second blocking, 54 against the phased plan.
Former party chairman Sir Iain Duncan Smith has warned that a third lockdown "would never get past the party". Former cabinet minister Jake Berry said ministers ruled "out of fear" and had to "restore hope".
He told the BBC's Nick Robinson podcast that his own constituency in Lancashire has been practically closed since March and has only "a little bit of free time for good behavior".
Mr Berry, chairman of Tory MPs' Northern Research Group, said Mr Johnson must "show us a way out of the lockdown" rather than impose further restrictions.
Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, whose modeling underpins government decisions, said yesterday the final lockdown did not stop the surge in cases.
He told Radio 4's World at One: "In the east of England, the number of cases increased during the last lockdown, so additional checks may be required beyond those in force at the time."
Professor John Edmunds, a member of Sage's Scientific Advisory Group, said: “Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the animal system is holding back the epidemic wave. I think we need to look at these measures and maybe tighten them. & # 39;
Office workers have already been advised to work from home if possible.
However, ministers are considering strengthening this council in the New Year, advising commuters not to drive to work unless necessary. Mr Johnson yesterday repeated his request to families to restrict Christmas meetings.
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