LIVE updates as UK records 35,928 positive coronavirus cases

Almost 36,000 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the UK on Sunday as a new Tier 4 Covid alert level comes into force in parts of South East England.

Government figures released on Sunday, December 20 confirmed that 35,928 new positive tests for coronavirus were reported – with Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, saying the “sharp and sudden increase” is of serious concern.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that new Tier 4 restrictions – which order people to stay at home in areas with rapidly rising levels of Covid-19 infections – would come into play across large parts of South East England, while the Christmas bubble rules set out for the rest of the country would also be changing.

Up to three households may still form a Christmas bubble outside Tier 4 areas, but can only now meet on Christmas Day (December 25) instead of over a five-day period from December 23.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Toby Melville/PA Wire

He made the announcements on Saturday.

LIVE updates in aftermath of Government’s Christmas U-turn as Tier 4 Covid restrictions begin

Key Events

  • Tier 4 restrictions begin for millions in South East England.
  • Reaction to new Christmas bubble rules for the rest of the country.
  • Criticism of Government’s handling of pandemic by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
  • New variation seen in other parts of the UK
Show new updates

11.30am: This is what Matt Hancock had to say about the crowded scenes at train stations in London

Matt Hancock has condemned people crowding into train stations to leave London following the announcement of the Tier 4 restrictions on Saturday afternoons.

“I think those scenes were totally irresponsible. We have all got a responsibility," he said on Sunday.

“We in Government of course have a responsibility, but so does every single person.

“The plea that I have is that people will play their part, because it is only by acting – all of us – that we can get this under control.”

Mr Hancock rejected suggestions by critics like the senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker that he could resign.

“I am dealing with a global pandemic in the best way we possibly can, with huge pressures on the NHS, with case rates that are climbing and we must take action no matter how uncomfortable we find it,” he added.

11.25am: How to minimise our exposure to Covid-19 from World Health Organisation

Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organisation, said there were measures that could reduce the spread of the new strain of coronavirus.

She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that a combination of interventions can help control the virus, such as physical distancing, wearing masks, practising hand hygiene and eliminating interactions with others.

She added: “All of us need to look at what we do every day in terms of minimising our exposure.

“It’s a thousand little decisions every day about what we do. We need to know what our risk is when we go about our day and we need to take those steps to limit the risk.

“The virus may be more transmissible with this particular variant, and circulating in certain areas, but there are measures that can reduce the spread.”

11.10am: Call for those in Tier 4 to ‘play their part’ in tackling Covid spread

The Government’s Christmas transport tsar, Sir Peter Hendy, said in a statement: “The message is clear – to combat this virus, you must follow the guidance and stay at home.

“At stations we will be deploying extra staff, announcements will make the law clear, and additional BTP officers are in place to ensure that only essential journeys take place.

“People considering driving should also stay at home or stay local. The new restrictions mean that people should not travel into or out of Tier 4 areas, and across the country you should stay local.

“You should play your part in tackling the spread of this virus.”

11.00am: ‘Confusion and indecision’

10.50am: What does the Christmas bubble change announcement mean for Tier 3?

Christmas Covid rules have been dramatically scaled back meaning festive bubbles will now only be able to meet indoors on one day – instead of five.

At a press briefing on Saturday, Boris Johnson has confirmed changes to the Christmas Covid rules which were due to be relaxed between December 23 and 27.

10.40am: What do we know about the new coronavirus strain?

Studies have begun to get a better understanding of a new coronavirus strain identified in England, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said.

Asked about the new strain on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead at WHO, said: “What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread.

“There are further studies that are under way to really understand how much faster this spreads and if it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behaviour. Those studies are under way.

“We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease, from the preliminary information that they’ve shared with us.

“Although again, those studies are under way to look at hospitalised patients with this variant, compared to other wild type viruses.

“And there are studies that are under way to look at the body’s ability to develop neutralising antibodies.”

10.35am: ‘Incompetent’ handling of Covid pandemic by Government - Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he supported new restrictions being placed on the capital but criticised the Government’s “incompetent” handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show, he acknowledged that coronavirus was spreading fast, saying six out of 10 infected Londoners had the new variant.

Mr Khan added: “We have the same number of patients in our hospitals as inpatients with Covid now as we had at the peak in April, and this is the month before January, which is the busiest month of the year for our NHS.

“Nobody wants the NHS to be overwhelmed over the course of the next few days and weeks.”

10.20am: Call from Health Secretary to stay at home to protect NHS and save lives

10.10am: ‘Enormous challenge’ in controlling new Covid-19 strain - Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the country faces an “enormous challenge” controlling the new strain of Covid-19 after scientists found it was able to spread more rapidly.

Mr Hancock suggested additional restrictions for England announced by the Prime Minister on Saturday may have to remain for “the next couple of months” while a vaccine is rolled out.

“What is really important is that people not only follow them (the new rules) but everybody in a Tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

“We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present.

“All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem."

10.05am: ‘We cannot continue with Christmas as planned’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson posted a series of Tweets on Saturday as the changes were announced.

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