Health Secretary confirms new variant of Covid and Tier 3 restrictions for areas including London

Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs that a new variant of coronavirus has been identified which may be associated with the faster spread in the South East of England.

He said today (December 14) that  over 1,000 cases with this variant had been identified, predominantly in the South of England although, cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas and numbers are increasing rapidly

He said: “Similar variants has been identified in other countries over the last few months. We have notified the World Health Organization about this new variant. And Public Health England is working hard to continue its expert analysis at Porton Down.

“There is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.

“But it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”

It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been observed in other countries, such as Spain.

This variant includes a mutation in the ‘spike’ protein. Changes in this part of the spike protein may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor, said: “We are investigating a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, predominantly in Kent and the surrounding areas. It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose.

“There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected.

“The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.”

Mr Hancock also confirmed the move to Tier 3 restrictions from Wednesday (December 16) for Greater London, the south and west of Essex, which includes Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford. Along with Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea Borough Councils and the South of Hertfordshire, which means Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers Local Authority.

Talking of tiering decisions, he said: “The first formal review of tiering decisions is taking place this Wednesday, two weeks after the new rules came into force.

“Over the last week, we have seen very sharp exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

“We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause, we have to take swift and decisive action, which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.

“In some parts of these areas, the doubling time is around every 7 days. This isn’t just about rising rates among school-age children anymore but in all age groups, including the over-60s. And we know from painful experience that more cases lead to more hospitalisations, and sadly the loss of more of our loved ones.

“Hospitals across the capital, Essex and Kent are already under pressure and we know that this doubling of cases will be mirrored in hospital admissions, and it only takes a few doublings for the NHS to be overwhelmed.”

This means that people can only see friends and family they don’t live with, or are in a support bubble with, in outdoor public places, and of course in line with the rule of 6.

Hospitality settings must close, except takeaway and delivery and people should avoid travelling outside their area and reduce the number of journeys they make wherever possible.

He confirmed surge mobile testing is underway in parts of London, Essex and Kent.


  1. Surely, it’s time to think again about Christmas. The example of Thanksgiving in the USA should be an example to us all.

    Let’s give up Christmas in 2020 and make sure we all enjoy the 2021 version

  2. Why have only part of Essex gone into Tier 3, yet all of Kent went into the same tier when parts had/have a low infection rate?

  3. Shut the schools down early for Xmas. Opening the shops for Xmas shopping a big mistake. The economy will bounce back. The roaring twenties comes to mind, after the Spanish flu pandemic.

  4. We are not the first country to experience the ‘variant’ yet we have only just heard about the ‘1,000 cases’ – it must be a certainty that China has had it for some time, have we been caught by surprise by the obvious yet again?

  5. I agree with you Andrew. One Xmmas is not worth the risk, if we all keep our heads down next year could be normal

  6. The government will only “cancel ” Christmas if things get dire. It would cost them too many votes.
    It’s obvious that depending on people’s common sense is a waste of time. A good test for covid is loss of sense of smell, taste and common sence.
    For the benefit of the specially challenged (including the two women behing me in the supermarket queue) a typical bed is about 2 m long. If you imagine that you’re standing behind the bed head, then the next nearest person should be beyond where the foot of the bed would be.
    If you can reach out and touch someone, you’re too close.

  7. The UK government has granted pharmaceutical giant Pfizer a legal indemnity protecting it from being sued, enabling its coronavirus vaccine to be rolled out across the country as early as next week.

    The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed the company has been given an indemnity protecting it from legal action as a result of any problems with the vaccine.

    Ministers have also changed the law in recent weeks to give new protections to companies such as Pfizer, giving them immunity from being sued by patients in the event of any complications.

    NHS staff providing the vaccine, as well as manufacturers of the drug, are also protected.

    The vaccine will be made available to anyone over the age of 16 but will not be available to pregnant women because of the lack of data about how it could affect them and the baby. An ongoing trial is looking at this.

    The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on Tuesday under regulation 174 of the Human Medicine Regulations 2012 which allows an unlicensed medication to be used in an emergency such as a pandemic.

    It also has the effect of granting civil immunity to Pfizer after the government changed the regulations following a short three-week consultation in September.

    In a press conference with journalists on Wednesday, Ben Osborn, Pfizer’s UK managing director, refused to explain why the company needed an indemnity.

    He said: “We’re not actually disclosing any of the details around any of the aspects of that agreement and specifically around the liability clauses.”

    Asked about when the full data on the vaccine’s clinical trial would be published, the company said this was still being worked on.

    . The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will, however, be scheduled alongside other vaccines subject to the Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme, which authorizes one-time payments of £120,000 for individuals who have been disabled in the rare case that a vaccine produces highly damaging side effects to patients. Such scheduling should allow claimants to still receive damages in the very unlikely event that they suffer serious side effects from the vaccine.(taxpayer money)

  8. These are crimes against humanity and the officials concerned will be brought to account one day. There is no justification, based on current statistics, for these tiers and lockdowns. Just fear control propaganda for the masses who don’t research and are more susceptible.

    • There have already been shows on about how badly the government & the NHS behaved during the first wave. Now we have the government quietly changing the law to help out their buddies at Pfizer(we didn’t hear about this on the news channels)-meaning if you do die or have long term complications from this such as an auto-immune disease then you or your family have no legal recourse to sue them, all you will be able to do is put a claim in to the government who will then decide if or how much you will receive as compensation-scandalous.

      Pfizer still state they have no idea if or when they will publish the full trial data which will allow for peer reviews, for their rushed through never before licenced for use in humans drug, that the regulator was practically green lighting under government & pharma pressure before they had even seen the paperwork, that we were told was safe for everybody & after the allergic reactions the story changed to not safe for people with prior allergic reactions, we have no idea how long any immunity lasts because they don’t either.

      If this backfires it will be a scandal on a par with the tainted blood from America that the government & NHS covered up for decades & only now are starting to accept responsibility & payout-far too late for most who are deceased from Aids & Hepatitis. Why exactly did Pfizer need a new law enacted to protect them from prosecution if their vaccine is 95% effective & safe with no significant side effects? Another lie as we have seen at least two here had significant side effects & there were nearly 140 adverse effects from US testing.

    • Tiers and lockdowns are an excellent way of limiting infection. It’s a great shame that so many people are ignoring the very simple advice of keeping at a safe distance from others and cleaning your hands frequently.

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