The mutated coronavirus strain is reportedly as much as 70 percent more transmissible than previous versions

By Eric Todisco
December 20, 2020 01:00 PM
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Streets emptied out in Cardiff, Wales, after new COVID-19 restrictions were announced
| Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed a tighter lockdown on London and most of England's southeast region over concern of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

Johnson, 56, announced the new restrictions during a press conference on Saturday after the government got evidence of a variant first detected several weeks ago in southeast England that is as much as 70 percent more transmissible than previous versions, according to NBC News and the New York Times.

The new restrictions, known as "Tier 4," will be put into place beginning on Sunday, just days before Christmas.

"Tier 4" involves a two-week closure of nonessential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys, while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space, NBC News reported.

"As Prime Minister, it is my duty to take the difficult decisions, to do what is right to protect the people of this country," Johnson wrote on Twitter Saturday.

"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," he continued. "We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases."

Professor Chris Whitty, the U.K.'s chief medical officer, said on Saturday that the U.K. has informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the new strain.

According to NBC News, Whitty said that scientists were "continuing to analyze the available data to improve our understanding" of the virus. He also said that current data does not suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or affects the vaccines and treatments.

Credit: Peter Summers/Getty Images

The U.K.'s most recent coronavirus lockdown, which began on Nov. 5 and ended on Dec. 2, closed all pubs and restaurants with the exception of takeout and delivery, and indoor gatherings could only take place with those in the same household.

"From Thursday until the start of December you must stay at home,” Johnson said in a news bulletin on BBC and on Twitter Oct. 31.

As of Dec. 20, the U.K. has reported over 2 million cases of COVID-19, while at least 67,075 people have died from coronavirus-related illnesses, according to the NYT's database.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.