Millions forced to cancel Christmas as ‘new variant’ of coronavirus spreads in U.K.
LONDON — Millions of people in London and the U.K.’s southeast will be forced to cancel their Christmas plans after scientists said Saturday that a new coronavirus variant was spreading more quickly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference that the toughest set of coronavirus restrictions — known as “Tier 4” — will be put in place from Sunday, putting regions under the strictest lockdown rules.
As a result, nonessential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks, while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
A “bubble” policy — allowing up to three households to meet over the holiday period in parts of the country that are not under Tier 4 restrictions — will be severely curtailed and will only apply on Christmas Day, Johnson said.
He added that he “bitterly regretted” the changes, but insisted they were “necessary.”
“Alas, when the facts change, you have to change your approach,” he said, adding that a briefing he had on Friday “about this mutation of the virus, particularly about the speed of transmission, was not possible to ignore.”
“The message is that this is the year to lift a glass to those who aren’t there, in the knowledge that it’s precisely because they’re not there to celebrate Christmas with you this year that we all have a better chance that they’ll be there next year,” he said.
Johnson spoke out after he was advised by scientists that the new coronavirus variant was spreading more rapidly.
“As announced on Monday, the U.K. has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance,” he said, adding that preliminary modeling data and rising cases in the country’s southeast showed “the new strain can spread more quickly.”
He added that scientists were “continuing to analyze the available data to improve our understanding.”
However, he insisted that there was “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.”
There has been mounting anxiety across as Britain — like other countries across Europe — is working to curb a second wave of Covid-19 cases and deaths, and the government is having to defend a plan to relax contact restrictions for five days over the Christmas period in order to lift the national mood.
“The government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring oand again in the autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing,” the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said in a unique joint editorial this week.
The government was already under intense scrutiny for what many say has been a repeated mishandling of the crisis. More than 66,000 people have died — leaving the U.K. with one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world.
With fears that the relaxing of the restrictions over the holiday period could lead to a further upward spike, Johnson did not rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown for England in the new year.
He told reporters Friday, “We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that. But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
A face mask is the recommended face covering. A face mask includes any paper or textile covering designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to protect the wearer. It does not have to be medical grade and you can make your own. There are instructions on how to make a mask on the Department’s website – how to make your own mask (PDF).
A face shield means any film made from plastic or other transparent material designed or made to be worn like a visor, covering from the wearer’s forehead to below the chin area and wrapping around the sides of the wearer’s face, to provide the wearer protection.
Wearing a face covering helps keep you and others safe. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is spread from close contact with a person with the virus. Face coverings are helpful to stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) and is contagious, but feels well.
The best way to protect other people against coronavirus (COVID-19) is staying home when you feel unwell, keeping 1.5 metres apart, wash your hands often, and cough or sneeze into your elbow or tissue. Face coverings add an additional protective physical barrier to protect you and your loved ones.
- Infants and children under the age of 12 years.
- A person who is affected by a relevant medical condition – including problems with their breathing, a serious skin condition on the face, a disability or a mental health condition. This also includes persons who are communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to that person’s health and safety related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.
- Persons whose professions require clear enunciation or visibility of their mouth. This includes teaching or live broadcasting.
- Professional sportspeople when training or competing.
- When the individual is doing any exercise or physical activity where they are out of breath or puffing; examples include jogging or running but not walking. You must have a face covering on you and wear it when you finish exercising.
- When directed by police to remove the face covering to ascertain identity.
- The person is travelling in a vehicle by themselves or with other members of their household.
- When consuming food, drink, medication or when smoking/vaping.
- When asked to remove a face covering to ascertain identity, for example at a bank branch or bottle shop.
- When undergoing dental treatment or other medical care to the extent that the procedure requires that no face covering may be worn.
- During emergencies.
You must carry a face covering with you when leaving home for one of the four reasons, even if you don’t need to wear it while undertaking your current activity, for example you can take your face covering off to eat. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a face covering at all times you don’t need to carry it with you.
Schools, study and childcare
It is not compulsory for teachers, educators and carers to wear face coverings while teaching or caring for children as face coverings can interfere with their ability to clearly communicate with students or children in their care. Teachers, educators and carers can choose to wear face coverings if they wish when teaching or providing care for children.
Teachers, educators and carers must wear face coverings in other areas of the school/ facility when not teaching or providing care.
It is important that you wear your face covering when at work, but some people may require short breaks from wearing their face covering. When you do so, ensure you are not near other people, and follow this advice when removing your face covering:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Don’t touch the front of the mask or your face.
- Carefully remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or untying the ties. For masks with a pair of ties, unfasten the bottom one first, then the top one.
- If your mask has filters, remove them and throw them away. Fold the mask and put it directly into the laundry or into a disposable or washable bag for laundering. Single use surgical masks should be disposed of responsibly.
- Clean your hands again.
Only a short break should be required.
Do I need to wear a face covering at home if I work from home and it is currently considered my workplace?
Do residents of aged care facilities and other group homes need to wear face coverings at all times?
The requirement to wear face coverings applies when people are outside of their home for one of the four reasons. It does not apply to aged care residents or other group homes residents while they are in the facility. However, it does apply to the facility’s staff and visitors inside the facility and when a resident leaves the facility for one of the four reasons.
I work in a call centre, do I need to wear a face covering when I am speaking with people on the telephone?
Yes. Construction workers will have to wear a face covering unless they meet any of the criteria for exception such as a medical condition or if wearing a face covering creates a risk to the person related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.
If you are doing strenuous exercise, such as jogging, running or cycling, you do not need to wear a face covering. You do have to carry a face covering with you so you can wear it before or after exercising.
You must wear a face covering when walking for exercise even if the 1.5 metre physical distancing is maintained unless you have a lawful excuse such as a medical condition, where it would be dangerous to have obstructed breathing while walking around.
A cloth face covering can be washed and re-used. It should be washed after each time you use it and before you put it back on. It is a good idea to have at least two, so you always have a clean one available.
How do I make it?
Does it have to have three layers?
Can I wear a disposable mask?
Yes. You should, however, dispose of it responsibly in the rubbish bin after one use.
While the Chief Health Officer recommends a cloth mask made of three layers of a mix of breathable fabrics to ensure adequate protection, any face mask or covering is better than none. This includes a scarf or bandana.
Wearing a mask
Make sure the face covering is fitted and pinched on your nose if possible. Put your glasses on after the face covering. Wash your glasses with detergent and water to create a film to prevent fogging. You can also use micropore tape (available at all pharmacies) to tape the face covering along the bridge of your nose and cheeks, then put your glasses on top. Or put a folded tissue across the bridge of your nose, then put your face covering on and your glasses on top.
If you are driving alone or only travelling with people from your household, you do not need to wear a face covering. You should put your face covering on before you leave your vehicle or if you wind down the window to talk to someone.
You should maintain physical distancing of 1.5 metres and if you need to cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or your elbow.