Reports of new 'Tier 4' amid expected tighter rules over Christmas
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Coronavirus restrictions over Christmas are expected to be tightened by prime minister Boris Johnson - with reports a new Tier 4 could be announced to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Johnson is holding emergency talks with Cabinet ministers this afternoon, ahead of a press conference at 4pm today.
It comes after scientists confirmed a new Covid-19 variant, which has been found in Ipswich this week, is spreading more rapidly in the south of the country.
The prime minister is reportedly set to outline details of a new Tier 4 and tighter rules over the Christmas period - where currently three households are allowed to meet indoors to form a 'Christmas bubble'.
Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said: "As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England's genomic surveillance.
"As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly.
"We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding."
Mr Johnson will be joined by Professor Whitty and the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, when he holds the press conference this afternoon, where he is set to address the strength of concerns around the new coronavirus variant.
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The development comes after the PM refused to rule out a third national lockdown for England - a move he has previously been deeply reluctant to contemplate.
Earlier today it was revealed that the East of England's coronavirus R rate has grown to become the highest in the country.
Government data has shown that the region's rate is now between 1.2 and 1.4 - higher than the national average for England at 1.1 and 1.3.
The figures also revealed the growth rate has risen, meaning Covid-19 infections are increasing between 4% and 6% every day.
All districts in Suffolk have experienced a rise in coronavirus cases over the last few weeks, with Ipswich's infection rate the highest in the county at 222.8 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to December 15.