New coronavirus restrictions may be needed ‘for months’ as mutant strain rages ‘out of control’
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Mr Hancock said the country was facing an “enormous challenge” after scientists warned the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.
During a round of broadcast interviews on Sunday, December 20, he said that everyone in the country needed to take “personal responsibility” for their actions to help curb the spread of the disease.
Millions of families had their Christmas plans plunged into disarray after the Prime Minister announced on Saturday, December 19, that London and the South East were to go into a new two-week lockdown – under new Tier 4 Covid alert level restrictions – in an attempt to get the disease back under control.
People across the rest of England were also told household mixing over the festive period would be restricted to Christmas Day only (Friday, December 25).
Previously, Christmas bubbles were going to be allowed to be together between December 23 and 27 with a maximum of three households.
Mr Hancock acknowledged that the speed of the changes had left people feeling “cross, frustrated and in many cases angry” but said ministers had had a “duty” to act when they were presented with the scientific evidence.
He said he was “really worried” about the NHS which was now treating almost as many hospital patients with the disease as it was at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April.
“We don’t know how long these measures are going to be in place. It may be for some time until we can get the vaccine going.”
The Health Secretary added that more measures were needed to control the new variant than were required for the original coronavirus.
Also speaking on Sunday, Labour leader Sir Keir said the alarm bells had been “ringing for weeks” but that Mr Johnson had repeatedly failed to act.
“It is an act of gross negligence by a Prime Minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve,” he told an online press conference.
“At the heart of the problem here is a Prime Minister who simply doesn’t want to be unpopular and therefore won’t take the tough decisions that are necessary until he is forced into them at the 11th hour.
“We can’t go on like that. I think that it is very important that the Prime Minister does apologise to people for his handling of this episode of the pandemic.”