(CMR) Families in parts of the UK will not be able to get together for Christmas as new restrictions were introduced on Saturday.
The new restrictions came after scientists announced a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, which is rapidly spreading in the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said London 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.
Non-essential shops, hairdressers, and indoor leisure venues in Tier 4 are required to close after the end of business hours Saturday.
Also, a planned five-day easing of socializing rules that would allow up to three households to meet in “Christmas bubbles” will be canceled for Tier 4 areas.
People in other tiers will only be allowed to meet on December 25.
Households in Tier 4 will not be allowed to mix with others or travel abroad unless it is for work. Households in all tiers were advised against traveling.
The area affected includes all of London, Kent, most of Essex, most of Surrey, as well Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, parts of Bedfordshire, Gosport, Portsmouth, and Peterborough.
Mr. Johnson said the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) had estimated that the new variant might be up to 70% more transmissible.
Scientists do not yet have evidence that the new variant has a higher mortality rate or affects vaccines' effectiveness or treatments for COVID-19.
The UK has one of Europe's highest COVID-19 death rates, with more than 67 000 fatalities and over 2 million cases.