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Millions face new UK COVID-19 restrictions; border chaos eases

The United Kingdom recorded 210 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, down from 570 the day before, while cases rose 1,968 to 34,693, the government said, citing partial data.

Millions face new UK COVID-19 restrictions; border chaos eases

People walk through Oxford Circus as shops remain closed under Tier 4 restrictions, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, December 26, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON: Millions of people in the United Kingdom faced tough new coronavirus restrictions on Saturday (Dec 26), with Scotland and Northern Ireland demanding tighter measures to try to halt a new variant of the virus that is believed to spread more quickly.

Northern Ireland went into a six-week lockdown and in Wales, restrictions that were relaxed for Christmas Day were also re-imposed.

The number of people under England's top level of restrictions - Tier 4 - increased by 6 million on Saturday to 24 million people overall, around 43 per cent of England's population. The region included London and many of its surrounding areas.

No indoor mixing of households is allowed, and only essential travel permitted. Gyms, pools, hairdressers and stores selling non-essential goods have been ordered to close and pubs and restaurants can only do takeout. Business groups say the restrictions will be economically devastating to their members.

The UK recorded 210 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, down from 570 the day before, while cases rose 1,968 to 34,693, the government said, citing partial data.

The United Kingdom has recorded a death toll of 70,405, defined as those dying within 28 days of a positive test. Under that measure, it has the world's sixth-largest toll, after the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and Italy.

READ: Another new variant of COVID-19 virus found in the UK: Health minister

READ: COVID-19: France confirms first case on its soil of UK virus variant

BORDER CHAOS

Fears about the UK's new variant have sparked a week of border chaos. Around 1,000 British soldiers spent Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of trucks stranded in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the UK and demanded coronavirus tests from all drivers.

But Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Saturday that more than 15,000 drivers had been tested and that the backlog at a testing site at Manston Airport had cleared. Only 36 positive tests had been reported, he said on Twitter.

“A massive THANK YOU to everyone who’s worked tirelessly over the past few days to reduce the huge disruption caused by the sudden French border closure,” Shapps tweeted.

READ: What we know about the new strain of coronavirus found in Britain

READ: EU begins vaccine roll out as new coronavirus variant spreads

The first cases of the UK's new variant have now been detected in France and Spain. A French man living in England arrived in France on Dec 19 and tested positive for the new variant on Friday, the French public health agency said. He has no symptoms and is isolating at his home in the central city of Tours.

Meanwhile, health authorities in the Madrid region said they had confirmed the UK variant in four people, all of whom are in good health. Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said the new strain had arrived when an infected person flew into Madrid’s airport.

In her annual Christmas address, Queen Elizabeth II, who has spent much of the year isolating at Windsor Castle with her husband Prince Philip, delivered a heartfelt message of hope praising the “indomitable spirit” of those who have risen “magnificently” to the challenges of the pandemic.

The 94-year-old queen and her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip were setting an example by not visiting relatives as usual over Christmas.

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Source: AGENCIES/nh

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