UK puts millions more under tight restrictions as cases soar

Associated Press

London — The British government on Wednesday extended its toughest coronavirus restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population, saying a fast-spreading new variant of the virus has reached most of the country.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government's top infection-warning level, Tier 4, would be expanded beyond London and the southeast to cover large swaths of central, northern and southwest England.

Under Tier 4, people are advised to stay home, mixing of households is prohibited, nonessential shops are shut and restaurants and bars can only offer takeout.

A mask on the pavement near the entrance of a hospital on Westminster Bridge in London, Wednesday.

Hancock said Wednesday’s authorization of a second vaccine for use in the U.K. was good news, but “sharply rising cases and the hospitalizations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”

“It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. “But …we must act to suppress the virus now, especially as the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.”

Hospitals in the worst-hit areas of London and southern England are becoming increasingly overstretched, with ambulances unable to unload patients at some hospitals where all the beds are occupied. There are more people in hospitals with COVID-19 now than at the first peak of the outbreak in April.

Britain has recorded more than 71,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, the second-highest death toll in Europe after Italy. The country reported a record number of new confirmed cases on Tuesday.