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Christmas has effectively been cancelled for millions of Brits after the government dramatically banned festive bubbles in large parts of the country just six days beforehand.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced London and the south east of England will be placed into a Tier 4 coronavirus lockdown from 12.01am tomorrow, approximately a third of England's population.
Tier 4 rules are essentially the same as the national lockdown in November with non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, leisure and entertainment venues all being forced to close.
Tier 4 residents must not travel out of their area and work from home if they can.
Festive bubbles in Tier 1 to 3 are also going to be scaled back. Initially the lockdown restrictions were set to be relaxed from December 23 to 27 but now that is only happening on Christmas Day.
Mr Johnson said: "We cannot continue with Christmas as planned.
"Christmas will be different but we must be realistic. As sure as night follows day we will beat back this virus and reclaim our lives.
"We are sacrificing the chance of seeing our loved ones this Christmas so we have a better chance to see them for future Christmases."
It came after Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said the UK has informed the World Health Organisation that the new variant of Covid-19 can spread more rapidly.
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More than 27,000 people tested positive for coronavirus in the last 24 hours.
Mr Johnson delivered a 'stay at home' message after holding emergency talks with the Cabinet to discuss how to handle the rapidly spreading new variant.
It was the second meeting in just 24 hours on the new variant but the Prime Minister said: "There is no evidence to suggests it is more lethal but we must act now."
By December it had become "the dominant variant" in London.
The government is concerned it can be passed on more easily and everyone in all tiers were asked to "stay local".
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Mr Johnson added: "It may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant.".
It is also only days since Mr Johnson was resisting pressure to cancel the relaxation of restrictions over the festive season with the infection rate rising.
It will come as a devastating blow to millions of Brits who had made Christmas plans with their loved ones in anticipation of the five-day lockdown restriction relaxation.
The new Tier 4 restrictions will cover all 32 London boroughs, Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey excluding Waverley, parts of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex.
Coronavirus cases have soared during the last week with the R number in the UK estimated to have gone up to between 1.1 and 1.2.
Prof Whitty added a moment of hope as he insisted "this is not the worst moment" of the pandemic.
- Boris Johnson
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