Boris holds Covid talks over ‘more virulent’ mutant strain as swathe of south-east enters Tier 3

Published: 19 December 2020, 9:17 AM

Posk Desk : Boris Johnson has reportedly been holding emergency talks with ministers and experts over a new strain of the coronavirus which is believed to be spreading quickly across London and the south-east.

The Prime Minister was said to be considering tough news measures to combat the new Covid-19 strain – including a possible ban on travel between the south-east and the rest of the country – as hospitals come under rowing pressure.

It comes as millions more people in England woke up to harsher coronavirus restrictions on Saturday as parts of the south-east head into Tier 3.

The change means 38 million people, or 68 per cent of the population of England, are now under the toughest restrictions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock placing more areas under the toughest measures, closing pubs, restaurants and cinemas, which came into force at midnight.

Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Surrey with the exception of Waverley, Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire was moved to the toughest level of restrictions.

The first major rejigging of the new tier system followed latest figures from Sage showing the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is estimated to have risen to between 1.1 and 1.2.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown for England in the new year.

The Royal College of GPs chair: We will up rollout of vaccine programme in care home if Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approved
The Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall has said it will speed up the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme in care homes if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by regulators.

“At the moment we are dealing with this Pfizer vaccine, which is difficult,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“On the assumption that we are going to get approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine which is much more familiar because it is much more like the flu vaccination, then I think we will be able to roll out at a much faster pace, but certainly over the next few weeks and next couple of months we expect all care homes to be covered.”

Jeremy Hunt: Government faces ‘very difficult, finely-balanced judgment’ on coronavirus rules
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the Government faces a “very difficult, finely-balanced judgment” on whether to strengthen the coronavirus rules.

Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if ministers did not want to change the law they should consider strengthening the guidance on social-distancing.

“It is a very difficult, finely-balanced judgment. The biggest worry is what happens indoor in family gatherings and that’s where the risks do increase,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme.

“They have to respond to what is happening on the ground. I think they can be clearer about what is and isn’t advisable because it would be an enormous tragedy if we had a spike in deaths at the end of January/February because we took our foot off the pedal this close to having a vaccine.”

Mr Hunt said it was on a “knife-edge” whether a third national lockdown would be needed after Christmas.

“Looking at the numbers it is difficult to judge at the moment because in the North East and the North West although infection levels are going up they are still much lower than they have been, and the second strain of the virus doesn’t seem to have spread as much in the North as it has in the South. I would say at the moment it is on a knife-edge.”

Christmas dinner setting creates “perfect conditions” to spread the virus, expert says
Families sharing Christmas dinner create “perfect conditions” for coronavirus to spread, a professor of psychology has warned.

Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews, told Times Radio on Saturday: “Christmas is a gift to the virus.

“If you want the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus it would be to be indoors, somewhere that wasn’t well ventilated, somewhere which was crowded, somewhere where there’s alcohol so that we forget our inhibitions, and that describes perfectly the Christmas dinner.”

His comments came on the last weekend ahead of the planned temporary easing of restrictions over the Christmas period.

The latest figures from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is estimated to have risen to between 1.1 and 1.2.