It was only a few days ago that Boris Johnson stood in the Commons chamber and accused Sir Keir Starmer of wanting to ‘cancel Christmas’ as he defended the government’s plan to relax restrictions over the festive period. However, that plan has now changed. Following rumours in the press that London could be placed under Tier 4 and the Christmas guidance changed, Boris Johnson used an impromptu press conference to confirm a significant change to the rules.
A new tier – Tier 4 – has been added to the system. London and the South East are to be placed in it as of midnight this evening. Under Tier 4, there will be tighter restrictions with a stay at home order – exemptions being to exercise, childcare or to go to work, but only if you cannot work from home. Non-essential retail will be closed and in terms of socialising individuals will only be permitted to meet one person outside of their own household and that has to be outside.
Under Tier 4 rules there will also be no Christmas relaxation whatsoever, so no Christmas bubbles permitted. Those across the country in Tier 3 and below will be allowed some Christmas relaxation, but it has been tightened. Rather than three households being allowed to gather from 23-28 December, they will only be allowed to congregate on Christmas day itself. The tiers will be reviewed 30 December.
Announcing the decision, the Prime Minister put the change in approach down to worrying data regarding a new strain of Covid that spreads more quickly. Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance used slides to point to data from London and the South East which show how the new variant is spreading. Johnson said that the new strain was so easily spread that the current tier system would not be enough to contain it. This raises questions about how long areas could be under Tier 4 for. It could extend well into the new year.
Johnson said that faced with the data, he felt that he had no other option but to put these new measures in place. That lack of choice does not mean it will be plain sailing for him. His insistence that he would not ‘cancel Christmas’ means many will now question how he came to do just that for swathes of the country. Tory MPs, too, will not take the decision lying down. Already Conservative MPs are calling for a recall of parliament. The Prime Minister will not get much in the way of peace in the coming days and weeks.