UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said that the government has imposed a strict lockdown in London and southeast England because a new strain of the coronavirus was "out of control".
Besides, the Union Health Ministry has called an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on Monday to discuss the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus in the UK, which has led to a surge in the infection rate.
Meanwhile, a number of European countries have banned flights from the UK as the British government warned that the potent new strain of the virus was "out of control".
"It seems that the spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
"We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding," said Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England.
"There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this," he added.
Boris Johnson announced the new rules at a briefing from 10 Downing Street on Saturday evening. As per the new rules, a planned five-day "Christmas bubble" of relaxed rules has been cancelled in favour of a new Tier 4 level to the current three-tier lockdown system to try and control the surge in infections being caused by the new mutation of COVID-19.
Under the new Tier 4 rules, people would be banned from mixing with anyone outside of their household, including on Christmas Day, and for the other tiers, Christmas rules allowing up to three households will now be limited to Christmas Day of December 25 only, rather than five days. The changes will last for two weeks with the first review now due on December 30.
The new restrictions - similar to the second national lockdown which ended in November - applies to all areas in the South East which were in tier three, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It also applies in London and the East of England - Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire and Essex. In Wales, the restrictions were brought forward pre-Christmas to also begin right away.
"We are sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so that we can see them at future Christmases," he said, adding that he "bitterly regretted" have to make these changes.
What will remain closed under Tier 4 restrictions?
1. Non-essential retail, such as clothing and homeware stores, vehicle showrooms (other than for rental), betting shops, tailors, tobacco and vape shops, electronic goods and mobile phone shops, and market stalls selling non-essential goods - these venues can continue to be able to operate click-and-collect (where goods are pre-ordered and collected off the premises) and delivery services.
2. Hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs; with the exception of providing food and drink for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect, drive-through or delivery.
3. Accommodation such as hotels, hostels, guest houses and campsites, except for specific circumstances, such as where these act as someone’s main residence, where the person cannot return home, for homeless people, or where it is essential to stay there for work purposes.
4. Leisure and sports facilities such as leisure centres and indoor gyms, indoor swimming pools, indoor tennis and basketball courts, indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor climbing walls.
5. Entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums and galleries, casinos, amusement arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, go-karting venues, indoor play and soft play centres and areas (including inflatable parks and trampolining centres), circuses, fairgrounds, funfairs, zoos and other animal attractions, water parks and theme parks.
6. Indoor attractions at botanical gardens, heritage homes and landmarks must also close, though outdoor grounds of these premises can stay open.
7. Personal care facilities such as hair, beauty, tanning and nail salons. Tattoo parlours, spas, massage parlours, body and skin piercing services must also close. It is also prohibited to provide these services in other people’s homes.
8. Community centres and halls must close except for a limited number of exempt activities, as set out below. Libraries can also remain open to provide access to IT and digital services - for example for people who do not have it at home - and for click-and-collect services.
What can remain open under Tier 4 restrictions?
1. Essential retail such as food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres and Christmas tree retailers, building merchants and suppliers of building products and off-licences.
2. Market stalls selling essential retail may also stay open.
3. Businesses providing repair services may also stay open, where they primarily offer repair services.
4. Petrol stations, automatic (but not manual) car washes, vehicle repair and MOT services, bicycle shops, and taxi and vehicle hire businesses
5. Banks, building societies, post offices, short-term loan providers and money transfer businesses.
6. Funeral directors.
7. Laundrettes and dry cleaners.
8. Medical and dental services.
9. Vets and pet shops
10. Animal rescue centres, boarding facilities, and animal groomers (may continue to be used for animal welfare, rather than aesthetic purposes).
11. Agricultural supplies shops.
12. Mobility and disability support shops.
13. Storage and distribution facilities.
14. Car parks, public toilets and motorway service areas.
15. Outdoor playgrounds.
16. Outdoor gym, pools, sports courts and facilities
17. Golf courses.
18. Archery/driving/shooting ranges (outdoors).
19. Outdoor riding centres.
Here are the 'Tier 4: Stay at Home' guidelines: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home
(With input from agencies)