Tier 4: Announcement greeted with dismay after weeks of Christmas lockdown denials

Katherine Johnston (21 December, 2020)

'Our country is in chaos and turmoil on Boris Johnson’s watch' - Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes

35482Boris Johnson, pictured in March

Boris Johnson’s Christmas announcement was greeted with dismay by residents and politicians alike in Southwark.

Families were furious that promised Christmas bubbles were left in tatters, with many heartbroken and now facing an anxious few days of frantic shopping. 

Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes said that the need for further restrictions over Christmas had been ‘obvious’ for some time, and although many had already decided to stay away from their loved ones this was no comfort to those left out of pocket and alone – and businesses now closing shop. 

“As recently as last Wed Boris Johnson was still crying bah humbug at anyone who suggested new restrictions were needed,” she said.

“Making an earlier announcement would have given more time to plan and adjust. 

“His indecision, delay and incompetence is compounding the misery of this pandemic.

She has joined calls for parliament to be urgently reconvened.

“Our country is in chaos and turmoil on Boris Johnson’s watch,” she said.

“Parliament must be recalled so that MPs can represent our constituents who are anxious and suffering, hold the government to account and debate the solutions we urgently need to chart a course through this national crisis.”

Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle said the PM was ‘not on top of the detail’, and had ‘heaped ‘avoidable chaos’ on families.

“Millions made plans to see family that won’t now happen,” he said. “Millions will be lost to the economy. Many thousands of people will have left London after work and schools closed yesterday. 

“How many will be exporting COVID, including the more infectious variant? What a foreseeable mess.” 

Coyle also angrily refused health minister Matt Hancock’s claims that the government only knew the mutated virus posed such a threat after receiving new data from scientists on Friday.

Hancock had told MPs in the House of Commons days earlier that the new strain appeared to be spreading more quickly.

 

What are the new rules? 

Tier 4 covers all London’s 32 boroughs and huge swathes of the South-East of England, including the home counties. 

In all, it covers a third of England and nearly eighteen million people. Those areas within tier 4 outside London are: Berkshire; Buckinghamshire; Gosport; Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring; Havant; Kent; Portsmouth; Rother and Hastings and Surrey excluding Waverley.

In tier 4 you can travel to work if working from home is not possible (for example for construction or manufacturing roles) but shouldn’t leave the tier or stay overnight anywhere else. Non-essential travel abroad is also banned.

You can only meet one person from another household outdoors but, in one difference to previous lockdowns, communal worship can continue.  Support bubbles can continue but only for the most vulnerable people.  

Tier 4 took effect from midnight on Sunday and will be next reviewed on December 30. There will be no relaxation for Christmas.

Johnson also upended advice for the rest of England, and areas falling in tiers 1-3. Previous advice that up to three households could mix for five days has now been restricted to only mixing on Christmas Day. 

 

Will schools reopen?

The largest teaching union in the country, the National Education Union, is calling for lessons to move back online for the first two weeks of next term and mass testing in schools thereafter. Its members want teachers prioritised for the vaccine during that fortnight.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has already said that secondary reopenings will be staggered to allow for mass testing. Currently, all students are expected to return to school by January 11.

 

What do we know about the ‘mutant virus’?

The new strain is believed to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible after rapidly spreading across the south-east of England since being first identified in September.

At the weekend government press conference Chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said that at the end of November this mutation accounted for just 10-15 per cent of all cases. 

By December 9, over 60 per cent of new cases in London were attributed to the new strain – meaning it is not only spreading fast but also quickly becoming the dominant variant. 

Although it has taken hold in the South East, this strain has now been identified in every area of Britain.

So far there is no evidence the mutation increases the risk of serious illness, or that it could affect how the vaccine works, but these are questions scientists are currently trying to ascertain with further research. 

We do know that a small number of new cases had already been identified in other countries including Denmark, South Africa, and Italy.

According to data from the Genomics UK Consortium, published on Friday, there have been 655 cases of the new strain identified in London; 703 in Kent, 183 in Norfolk, 136 in Essex, and 11 in Glasgow.

According to the latest data, the UK’s R number is estimated at 1.1 to 1.2, with a daily infection growth rate range of +1 per cent to +4 per cent – potentially spelling catastrophe for the NHS.

 

What is the situation in Southwark?

Southwark, like London as a whole, has seen an exponential growth in confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, leading to fears the NHS could be completely overwhelmed by January.

Daily lab-confirmed confirmed cases were just shy of 300 on Monday, having been 236 a week previously, and 106 on December 7.

So far hospital admissions are still below the levels reached during the first wave. The number of deaths – whether within 28 days of a positive test or by recording those where COVID-19 is listed on the death certificate. But admissions and fatalities are expected to quickly rise with the true impact of the current wave not truly felt for another few weeks.

Two people died from COVID-19 in Southwark in the week ending Friday, December 4. A total of 260 people from the borough have been killed by the virus since March.

 

How do I get vaccinated?

The UK’s vaccine roll-out is still in early days, with the over 80s being prioritised first. King’s College Hospital is now vaccinating all its patients – in and outpatients – who are 80 years old and over.

NHS surgeries also began administering jabs to eligible patients in the last week, with the most clinically vulnerable and NHS and social care staff first in line. The NHS will contact you inviting you for an appointment.

The vaccine is about 95 percent effective. Two shots are needed to achieve immunity. 

The vaccine is not currently offered to pregnant women until more research has been done into this area.

In the UK, more than half a million people have now received their first jab.

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