Swathes of England have been moved into the strictest level of coronavirus restrictions as cases continue to surge in the UK.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said cases in the south-east were up 46% in the last week, while in the east they were up by around 66%, with hospital admissions up by a half.
Areas of England were put into one of three tiers in late November, with Tier 1 having the least severe restrictions, and Tier 3 the strictest
The tiers were to be reviewed every two weeks, and following the first formal review, Hancock said the data showed large areas of the south-east and east would need to be moved up from Tier 2 to Tier 3.
More than 25,000 coronavirus cases were reported on Wednesday in England, he said, pointing to rising cases across much of the world.
And while he said case rates have fallen across large parts of England, “in most places we are not quite there yet, and pressures on the NHS remain”, meaning they won’t be moved down a tier.
Just three areas will be moved down a tier, with changes to come in from Saturday.
Bristol and North Somerset will move to Tier 2, while Herefordshire will go to Tier 1.
The capital London was upgraded to tier three on Wednesday following an emergency review.
Wales yesterday decided to strengthen restrictions.
Warning over Christmas relaxation
Hospital bosses have warned the government against a loosening of measures, pointing to “significant pressure” on the number of hospital beds now available, with 13,000 people hospitalised with coronavirus as the country heads into mid-winter.
Health experts had also been calling for a rethink on a Christmas relaxation of measures, which prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Wednesday would remain in place, instead urging families to treat the rules as the “maximum” of what is allowed.
Restrictions across the whole of the UK will be legally rolled back between December 23 and 27, allowing three households to form a “bubble” indoors if they so wish.
Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, the association for hospital trusts in England, had urged the government to exercise “extreme caution” in considering moving any areas into lower tiers, with the current trajectory of cases “at the bottom end of the hopes and expectations they had a month ago”.
“Evidence over the last fortnight shows that the rate of COVID-19 patients leaving hospital is considerably slower than it was in the first wave. In some areas, the numbers of COVID19 inpatients is increasing,” he warned in a letter to the government earlier this week, saying this is placing “significant pressure” on hospital bed numbers.
While the NHS had 500 coronavirus patients in hospital beds at the start of September, as of 10 December there were 13,000, he added.
Hopson also warned about the Christmas relaxation, pointing at a surge in the US following Thanksgiving celebrations.
“A relaxation of restrictions on social contact, combined with the natural desire to celebrate a traditional festival, inevitably increases the spread of the virus,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the vaccination programme continues to be rolled out in the UK.
Johnson said on Wednesday 138,000 people have received the coronavirus vaccine so far, saying “there’s no doubt that we are winning and will win our long struggle against this virus.”
He added it was, therefore, all the more important “we hold our nerve this winter” as the UK seeks to keep the virus at bay.