UPDATE (Dec. 19): Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new Tier 4 level of COVID-19 restrictions. Fears over a new strain of the coronavirus has led to this decision, with all the areas currently in Tier 3 in South East England—including London—set to move into Tier 4 this Sunday.

Speaking at a news conference at Downing Street today, Boris said: "Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned. When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence. As your prime minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me."

The new Tier 4 measures will see all non-essential stores, hairdressers and gyms shut up shop, with people being ordered to stay at home apart from those unable to work from home.

In England, only one person from a household can meet with another person from a different household outside, but exemptions will continue for support bubbles and childcare bubbles.

There will be a review of the Tier 4 measures on December 30.


UPDATE (Dec. 14): Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today that London, and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex, will move into Tier 3 of COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday (Dec. 16). Thousands of pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants will close after Tuesday night, except for delivery, takeaway and click and collect services.

"I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire," said Hancock today at the House of Commons. "We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out."

Hancock hasn't said when the restrictions will be lifted, but the rule of six still applies. "People can only see friends and family they don't live with, or are in a support bubble with, in outdoor public places," he said. "And, of course, in line with the rule of six, hospitality settings must close, except takeaway delivery. And people should avoid travelling outside their area and reduce the number of journeys they make wherever possible."

Original story below.

London officially has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in England, with the capital set to head into Tier 3 next week after the recent surge in cases.

The city had the highest average infection rate in the country—191.8 per 100,000 people—for the week of November 30 to December 6, according to Public Health England's weekly surveillance study. Cases rose from 158.1 per 100,000 people in the previous week, with several news outlets reporting that Health Minister Helen Whateley will likely upgrade the alert level to Very High on December 19. 

London's uptick in cases arrives as others around the rest of the UK plateaued, with PHE data showing case rates remained "at a similar level" for the week ending December 6 to what they were the week before.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London's public health chief, told The Evening Standard: "London now has the highest case rates of any region across the country and infections are increasing by the day. This is now a real test of our resilience as a city. We know that as cases go up, hospitalisations and deaths follow. The current trajectory is a worrying one, but we can change its course if every one of us does our bit. Our actions today will directly affect the health and wellbeing of ourselves and those close to us throughout the holidays, as well as influencing the burdens placed on our NHS over the festive period and New Year."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will decide the tiering allocations for the UK on Deecember 16, with the regulations expected to come into effect from December 19.