Britain says new COVID-19 strain ‘out of control’December 20, 2020
LONDON: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday (Dec 20) that the government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London and southeast England because a new strain of the coronavirus was “out of control”.
Hancock warned that the strict measures could stay in place until the virus vaccine is fully rolled out.
“We acted very quickly and decisively,” Hancock told Sky News, justifying the “stay at home” order and closure of non-essential shops affecting around a third of England’s population.
“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that millions must cancel Christmas plans and stay home because the new strain was spreading far more quickly.
Hancock suggested the tougher measures – which require about a third of the population of England to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work – might stay in place until vaccinations become more widely available.
Hancock told Sky News that the situation was “deadly serious”.
“It’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out,” he said, adding: “This is what we face over the next couple of months.”
It emerged that scientists first discovered the new variant in a patient in September.
Susan Hopkins of Public Health England told Sky News that the agency notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.
She confirmed the figure given by Johnson that the new virus strain could be 70 per cent more transmissible while saying this was an initial figure.
“I think 70 per cent looks like a good number to land on at the moment,” she said.
Soon after Johnson told the nation of the changes, some in London headed for the capital’s train stations to try to travel to see relatives over Christmas, and there were scenes of crowding – something Hancock called “totally irresponsible”.
He also said the government acknowledged that the economic impact of the new measures would be “severe” after the Confederation of British Industry called them a “real kick in the teeth” for many businesses.
But speaking on the BBC, Hancock said a new national lockdown was “not necessarily” inevitable to stem the rise in cases.
“One of the reasons we brought in the strict travel movements in Tier 4 … is to try to stop this new variant from spreading,” he told the “Andrew Marr Show”.