More areas in Tier 4 and new strain of Covid identified in UK- everything Matt Hancock had to say at today’s press briefing

‘Rapidly’ rising cases of Covid-19 will see more areas of the country escalated to Tier 4 on Boxing Day and a new strain of the virus from South Africa has been detected in the UK, Matt Hancock has revealed.

Speaking at a press briefing from Downing Street this afternoon (Wednesday, December 23), the Health Secretary said that coronavirus is spreading at a “dangerous rate” across large parts of England.

He said cases have risen by 57 per cent over the past week and hospital admissions are at an average of 1,909 a day - the highest figure since mid-April.

MORE OF EAST AND SOUTH EAST ENGLAND HEADED FOR TIER 4

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attends a remote press conference to update the nation on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street (Photo by KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Health Secretary said that from 12.01am on Boxing Day, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, those parts of Essex not yet in Tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire including Portsmouth and Southampton but with the exception of the New Forest will all be escalated to Tier 4.

Mr Hancock added: “Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Chesire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3. And I’m afraid that Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen sharply rising rates and need to be escalated to Tier 2.”

The changes mean that a total of 24 million people will be in Tier 4 from Boxing Day- nearly half of England’s population.

CASES OF ANOTHER STRAIN OF COVID-19 LINKED TO SOUTH AFRICA IDENTIFIED IN UK

The Health Secretary told the news briefing that two cases have been identified of another new strain of the coronavirus in the UK.

He said: “Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks. We are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigour of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here.

“This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”

Mr Hancock said both cases and close contacts of the cases are in isolation and that restrictions on travel from South Africa have been imposed.

Those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight are being told that they must go into isolation.

NEW VACCINE SUBMITTED FOR APPROVAL

The Health Secretary told the press briefing that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has now submitted full data package to the MHRA for approval.

He said: “I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine developed here in the UK has submitted its full data package to the MHRA for approval.

“This is the next step towards a decision on the deployment of the vaccine which is already being manufactured, including here in the UK.”

“I’m delighted to be able to announce that we have begun vaccination in care homes.

“We know that people who live in care homes are amongst the most vulnerable to this disease and I’m delighted that we’re able to do this."

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.