LONDON (AP) — London and surrounding areas will be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital, Britain’s health secretary said Monday.
Matt Hancock said the government must take swift action after seeing “very sharp, exponential rises” in Greater London and nearby Kent and Essex. He said that in some areas, cases are doubling every seven days.
Under Tier 3 restrictions, the toughest level in England’s three-tier system, people can’t socialize indoors and bars, pubs and restaurants must close except for takeout.
In November, London was among areas with the lowest regional infection rates in England. But some areas in and around London have now become virus hotspots.
Hancock told lawmakers that officials have identified “a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the south of England.”
“We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas,” he said. “And numbers are increasing rapidly.”
He didn’t provide details about the virus variant, but said there was nothing to suggest it was more likely to cause serious disease, or that it wouldn’t respond to a vaccine. Hancock said the government has notified the World Health Organization about the new variant.
Local officials in some boroughs of the capital have already advised some schools to close and move to online learning as coronavirus cases spike. On Sunday, Greenwich officials said the borough was experiencing a period of “exponential growth” in cases, with infection rates now at their highest since March.
Mayor Sadiq Kahn has suggested that the government asks all secondary schools and colleges in London to shut early before Christmas because of outbreaks among those ranging in age from 10 to 19.