LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher regulations across a swath of England in an effort to stamp down on the mutant strain of coronavirus that is spreading quickly across the country.
Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, most of Hampshire and the remainder of Essex will now face the strictest rules under the government's four-tier system, from 00.01am on Dec 26, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday in a press conference.
They join London and southeast England, meaning non-essential shops will have to close and socialising is further curtailed.
The new variant "is spreading at a dangerous rate," said Hancock, putting the rise in cases in the past week at 57 per cent. "The direction is clear and in many cases quite stark."
The government is struggling to bring the virus back under control after the new mutant strain began spreading rapidly in London and surrounding areas.
After an England-wide lockdown last month halted growth in infections, the virus has since started spreading exponentially again, risking overwhelming the National Health Service as cases tick upwards.
The new coronavirus variant, which emerged in south-east England in September, has alarmed scientists and governments around the world because early analysis suggests it may be as much as 70 per cent more transmissible than other circulating strains.
Countries including France temporarily suspended travel from Britain in response.
Hancock also said that two new cases of an even more transmissible variant originating in South Africa have so far been detected in Britain.
He told people who have recently returned form South Africa to go into quarantine.