Families must cancel their Christmas gatherings and most shops have to close in London and much of southern England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday as he imposed a new, stricter level of coronavirus restrictions on the region to curb rapidly spreading infections, the AP reports. Johnson said Saturday that the capital and other areas in southern England currently under Tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, will move to an even stricter new Tier 4 that requires all non-essential shops, hairdressers, and indoor leisure venues to close after the end of business hours Saturday. With just five days to go until Christmas, Johnson also announced that a planned easing of socializing rules will be canceled for Tier 4 areas and sharply curtailed in the rest of England.
Those rules would have allowed up to three households to meet in "Christmas bubbles" from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27. No mixing of households will be allowed in Tier 4 except under very limited conditions outside in public places. In the rest of England, people will be allowed to meet in Christmas bubbles for just one day instead of five, as the government originally planned. "It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned," Johnson said. A fast-moving new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70% more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread in London and southern England, Johnson said. London now has the highest infection rates in England. (The new new variant is "something to keep an eye on.")