British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday the re-containment of London and the south-east of England from Sunday, dealing a coup de grace to the Christmas reunion, in an attempt to stem a surge in contamination attributed to a new strain of the new coronavirus.
A new level of alert
Already subject to stringent restrictions, residents of the capital and south-east England will be placed under a new level of alert, the fourth and higher. They will be instructed to stay home and non-essential businesses will no longer be able to reopen after lowering the curtain on Saturday, putting an end to last-minute Christmas shopping.
Pubs, restaurants and museums were already closed there since last weekend. All travel outside of this area, whether to go elsewhere in the UK or abroad, will be prohibited.
A new strain not necessarily more dangerous
“It seems that this spread is now fueled by a new variant of the virus”, which is transmitted “Much more easily”, the Prime Minister said at a press conference. “There is no indication that it is more fatal or that it causes a more severe form of the disease” or that it reduces the effectiveness of vaccines, he added.
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This new variant had already been mentioned on Saturday by the British health authorities, who stressed, however, that they were still trying to determine its characteristics. “There is no indication at this time that this new strain causes a higher death rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, but urgent work is underway to confirm this”England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a statement.
The UK has informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the faster spread of this variant. Previous mutations of SARS-CoV-2 have already been observed and reported worldwide.
68% of the population in high alert zone
In total, 38 million people in England, or 68% of the population, already live in the alert zone ” very high “, the strictest level of restrictions which involves the closure of pubs, restaurants and museums, as well as the ban for households to mix with exceptions.
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On Wednesday, without going back on the authorization given for three homes to meet around Christmas despite the pandemic, Boris Johnson had called for caution and to opt for “Small” Christmas time. However, he refused on Friday to rule out a third confinement for England, while Wales and Northern Ireland decided to reconfine after Christmas.
Mass vaccination campaign
The United Kingdom, the country in Europe hardest hit with Italy, with more than 66,500 dead, launched a massive vaccination campaign on December 8, targeting the elderly and caregivers as a priority.
After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the British Medicines Agency (MHRA) is expected to approve a second vaccine on December 28 or 29, the one developed by the AstraZeneca laboratory with the University of Oxford, according to The Telegraph newspaper.