LONDON — The U.K.'s capital city is about to move into the country's highest level of coronavirus restrictions as cases continue to surge ahead of the holiday period.
On Monday, the government announced that London, a city of around 9 million, and its surrounding areas would move into the "very high" alert level of Tier 3.
Announcing the move in Parliament, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a new variant of the virus had been identified that "may be associated" with the faster spread of infection in the southeast of England.
From Wednesday, pubs, cafes and restaurants must close unless they offer takeout or delivery service, and entertainment venues and indoor entertainment venues including theaters and cinemas must shut.
Here's everything you need to know about the latest Tier 3 restrictions for London:
Tier 3 restrictions will apply in London, Essex and parts of Hertfordshire from the beginning of Wednesday December 16 — from 00:01 a.m. local time, to be precise.
London is moving into Tier 3 due to a surge in cases in the capital and its surrounding areas. Some boroughs in the capital have seen the number of cases rise by over 40% in the week up to Dec. 9, and parts of nearby Essex have seen the number of infections surge by up to 78%.
"The London weekly case rate at 225 per 100,000 people is already the highest regional rate in the country," the government said in a statement Monday.
Nationwide, the U.K. is still in the grip of a second wave of infections and different degrees of restrictions are in place around the country. A further 20,263 cases were reported in the U.K. on Monday, and 232 more fatalities from the virus, government data said.
In the last seven days, 131,708 more cases have been reported, around a 22% rise from the previous seven-day period, showing that the infection rate is still high and has been rising. The U.K. has started rolling out a coronavirus vaccine, however, which is hoped will curb transmission of the virus, as well as infection.
It's unknown how long the city will remain in Tier 3; much will depend on the rate of infection in the next few weeks. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said the tier system will be looked at and reviewed every 14 days, meaning that Dec. 30 would be the time for the next review.
A five-day relaxation of restrictions is still planned for the Christmas period, from December 23 to 27, that allows families to mix in a limited way (that is, three households are allowed to form a "bubble" over those five days). There are warnings from scientists, and two leading medical journals on Tuesday, that the period of relaxation should be scrapped given the infection rate, but no official decision has been made on that front yet.
The government advice states that if you live in a Tier 3 area then you should avoid traveling outside your area. That applies to international and domestic travel, but it is not a legal restriction.
Golf courses are allowed to stay open in Tier 3 areas, and other outdoor sports like tennis are also still allowed. But there are limits on social gatherings at sports venues.
Hospitality settings at the golf course are closed in Tier 3 areas, for example, although they are allowed to continue takeout services.
You can take part in organized sport and physical activity outdoors with any number of people, "however, you should avoid contact in training and, for some sports, avoid contact in all activities," the government said. Gyms and sports facilities will remain open for individual exercise but indoor group activities and exercise classes should not take place, the government notes.
Accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs (bed and breakfasts), campsites, holiday lets and guest houses must close within Tier 3 areas, although there is a variety of possible exemptions.
The housing market in England will remain open in all three tiers, the government says. "This means that people looking to move home will be able to both continue with planned moves and view new properties to move into in future. Estate and lettings agents, removers, valuers and people in sales and lettings offices and show homes will be able to continue working," it added.