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Boris Johnson has refused to rule out a third nationwide lockdown over Christmas in a bid to curb the spread of a new strain of coronavirus.
The UK yesterday recorded 574 Covid-19 deaths, along with an additional 39,036 cases.
A new variant of the disease, first identified in September, started causing higher infections rates in London and the southeast in November and has since been identified across the country.
Asked if he would rule out a lockdown after Christmas, the PM told a press conference: "Obviously we face very considerable new pressures, particularly from the new variant and the speed with which that’s been spreading … you will have seen what has been announced over the last day or so about that and, much as I regret that, I do think it is necessary for us to grip this virus now, to stop it running out of control in January.
"Because we need to buy ourselves time to get the vaccine into as many arms of the elderly and vulnerable as we can.
"So, it’s tough tiering, community testing and rolling out the vaccine, and we’re going to continue with that approach."
He added: "I know that it’s been very, very tough over the last few weeks and, I must tell people, it will continue to be difficult."
The PM has already axed most of his plans to ease restrictions over Christmas – amid fears family get-togethers would lead to soaring infection rates.
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Residents already in Tier 4 areas, such as those in south-east England and London, will not be able to meet with people outside their own household or support bubble.
It means just those in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 will be allowed to meet, limited to three households, on Christmas Day only.
Past midnight on Boxing Day, those living under Tier 4 measures will increase from six million to 24 million – 43% of the population of England.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have already announced new lockdowns from Boxing Day, while Wales' tough restrictions will only be eased for Christmas Day before being reimposed.
The PM said he had "never known a Christmas" like this one but said "sacrifices" made this year will keep people alive for next year's festive period.
In a video posted on Twitter on Christmas Eve, he said: "In most years it's a moment for togetherness and celebration in which the generations are jumbled together in the same household for days on end, pulling crackers and snogging under the mistletoe – you name it.
"And yet this year that is the one type of Christmas we simply cannot afford to have."
- Boris Johnson
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