Christmas in the shadow of the ‘new strain’ of coronavirus
New tight lockdown in London and south-east England imposed by British government ahead of COVID-19 outbreak of the epidemic.
“It seems that this (epidemic) spread is now fueled by a new variant of the virus,” which is transmitted “much more easily”, “up to 70%”, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a press conference, but hastened to clarify that nothing indicates that “this variant is more lethal” or limits the effectiveness of vaccines.
Labor leader Kir Starmer has strongly criticized the introduction of last-minute restrictive measures, stressing that tougher measures should have been implemented sooner.
Residents must stay in their homes, with limited exceptions. Shops, gyms, leisure areas and personal care centers will be closed. People should work from home whenever possible. It is also forbidden to enter or leave the areas classified in Level 4. Residents of these areas must not spend the night outside their homes. Pubs, restaurants and museums have been closed since last weekend.
Authorities had allowed up to three households to meet for five days at Christmas. Now, every gathering is forbidden in the zones that have been included in Level 4, while in the other areas the festive gatherings will be allowed for only one day, on the 25th of December.
“I had no choice”
“I have to tell you with a heavy heart that we can not allow Christmas to go as planned,” explained Boris Johnson. “I had no choice,” he added at a news conference preceded by a teleconference with his ministers.
The United Kingdom has informed the World Health Organization that the epidemic is spreading faster through the “new strain of the virus”, the British health authorities announced. Numerous mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been observed worldwide.
According to the British government’s scientific adviser Patrick Valance, this new variant “spreads faster”, but has also evolved into a “dominant” form of the coronavirus. It appeared in mid-September in London or Kent and is present in 62% of cases reported in London in December and 43% in the south east of England, compared with only 28% in mid-November.
The United Kingdom, along with Italy, is the most affected country in Europe by the epidemic with more than 67,000 dead. The limit of 2,000,000 cases was exceeded today.
The effects on trade are “very serious”
Helen Dickinson, head of the British Federation of Merchants, warned that the consequences of today’s decisions would be “very serious”. “In the face of the prospect of losing 2 2 billion in weekly sales for the third consecutive time this year, many stores will be in a difficult position and many thousands of jobs will be threatened,” he added, asking for additional financial assistance from the government for the industry.
Measures in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland
As in England, lockdown measures will be implemented from Sunday in Wales, almost a week earlier than planned. Northern Ireland will return to lockdown shortly after Christmas. Scotland has been applying Level 4 restrictions since 26 December, and strict travel restrictions to the rest of the United Kingdom have been announced.
The government of Boris Johnson has been harshly criticized since the beginning of the epidemic for its management of the crisis. After investing, without results, in the mass implementation of diagnostic tests, which is characterized as a fiasco by its critics, the Johnson government is now betting on the vaccination campaign, which started on December 8.
The British drug agency MHRA is preparing, after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to approve a second vaccine on December 28 or 29, that of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, according to The Telegraph.