Boris Johnson imposed a full lockdown on London and southeast England in a desperate attempt to stop a new coronavirus strain spreading rapidly over the U.K.
After emergency talks on the virus mutation with his top officials, the prime minister canceled his plan to ease pandemic rules for five days during the holiday. Household mixing will be banned in London and the south-east and socializing restricted to just Christmas Day across the rest of England. Residents across the country were told to stay in their local areas.
The premier announced a new top tier of pandemic curbs will be brought in for the hot-spot regions around the capital from Sunday, with all non-essential shops closing and millions of people ordered to stay at home.
“When the virus changes its method of attack we must change our method of defense,” Johnson said at a news conference Saturday. “Without action the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.”
The escalation in Johnson’s pandemic response was triggered by a new strain of the virus that is virtually unique to the U.K. Emerging scientific evidence suggests the new variant can spread significantly more quickly than previous strains in circulation and is behind a huge surge in infections in recent days.
Covid-19 case rates nearly doubled in London over the past week, with almost 60 percent of these infections attributed to the new strain of the virus, according to government officials.