Matt Hancock warns London may face harsher lockdown if new restrictions don’t work

Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned London could face further restrictions if a move to the toughest coronavirus tier tomorrow night fails to bring the pandemic under control. 

At a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Hancock told the watching public: “This moment is a salutary warning for the whole country.  

Just a week after ministers celebrated the historic moment that the first patient received the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, Mr Hancock was forced to say he did not rule out “further action” if the capital’s move to Tier 3 failed to cut infection rates.  

Greater London as well as parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be placed in the highest tier from a minute past midnight on Wednesday. 

The move comes as ministers revealed scientists have discovered a new variant of Covid-19 circulating in the southeast.

At the press conference, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was important to take “rapid” action after hospital admissions in London and the surrounding areas increased.

The most recent rise in cases had not yet fed into hospital rates, he added, but would “lead, inexorably, not only to Covid deaths directly, but also… to displacing other health activity, which means other diseases are not being treated if we do not get on top of this quickly.”

He also warned that the NHS could be under intense pressure in January and February, a time when the health service is traditionally facing strain as it battles to cope with infectious diseases more common in winter.  

In remarks that could disappoint some, Prof Whitty also suggested that families should come together at Christmas in a “minimalist” way. 

The “relatively modest” relaxation planned over the festive period would “put upward pressure on the virus” he said.  

On Christmas, Mr Hancock indicated that ministers intended to push ahead with plans to allow three households to come together over the holiday.  

But he added: “I think it is important that all of us are cautious ahead of Christmas and very careful in terms of the contact that we have, especially with people who we know are vulnerable to this disease.

“It is our personal responsibility to make sure that we follow that.”

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