Millions more Britons will be placed under the toughest Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions from New Year’s Eve forcing non-essential retail and close-contact personal care services to close.
Some 75% of England, including all of the north-east, Greater Manchester, large parts of the Midlands and the south-west have now all been added to Tier 4, which already covered London, much of the East and South East of the country.
Areas moved into Tier 4 include all of the Midlands except Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin and Rutland, which will all be in Tier 3. In the north-west, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, Cheshire, Warrington and Cumbria will be placed into Tier 4, while Liverpool will be moved up to tier 3.
In the south-west, Gloucestershire, Swindon, Somerset, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole will be in Tier 4, while the remainder of the region, including Cornwall, Devon and the rest of Dorset, will be moved up to Tier 3. The only part of England not in Tiers 3 or 4 is the Scilly Isles.
Non-essential retail and close-contact personal care services are able to open across Tiers 1 to 3.
The news comes as hospital admissions have soared with 21,787 people now in hospital and numbers expected to rise due to a more contagious new variant of the virus.
In more positive news the so-called Oxford Vaccine, developed by Astra Zeneca, has been given the green light for use in the UK and will be rolled out from Monday. Given that it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures, the vaccine is expected to be the work-horse of the UK vaccination programme and help to rapidly speed up inoculations.
So fair it is understood that just under 1m people have been vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which must be stored at a temperature of -70 degrees, causing logistical challenges.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “[The Oxford vaccine] brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no one in this house wants to see any longer than are absolutely necessary. But we must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.
“And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”