Oxfordshire – including the city of Oxford – will move into Tier 4 restrictions at 00:01 on Boxing Day. The county has been seeing an exponential rise in cases, which seems to be connected to the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in South East England.
The changes were announced in a Downing Street press conference, lead by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The Minister acknowledged that the festive period would be “very different”. He commented: “Just as we have got a tiered system in place, we have discovered a new more contagious virus, a variant which is spreading at a dangerous rate”.
Oxford will be entering Tier 4 restrictions from 00:01 on Boxing Day (Saturday 26 December).
This means: ▪You cannot meet other people indoors, unless you live with them, or they are part of your support bubble. ▪You can only meet one person from another household outdoors. pic.twitter.com/qiVw294jE5
In 8th week, when national lockdown was lifted, Oxfordshire had a case rate of 82 per 100,000 residents. In the 7 days leading up to the 18th of December, there have been a total of 1636 coronavirus cases confirmed in Oxfordshire, equivalent to a weekly rate of 236.5 per 100,000 people. In the last week, there has been a 57% increase in COVID-19 cases across the country, and hospital admissions are at the highest levels since mid-April.
Other areas of the country being moved into Tier 4 include Sussex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, those parts in Essex not already in tier four, Waverley in Surrey, and Hampshire – including Portsmouth and Southampton but excluding New Forest.
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset (including the North Somerset area), Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire, as well as Cheshire and Warrington, will be moved into tier three. Cornwall and Herefordshire will be escalated to tier two. These measures are hoped to curtail the spread of the new variant.
Speaking at the press conference this afternoon, Dr Susan Hopkins, the Senior Medical Advisor to Public Health England and NHS Track and Trace, announced that lateral flow tests, like those used on Oxford students, are capable of detecting the new variant.
“This rapid evaluation confirms that lateral flow devices can detect the new variant. This is good news as it means they can continue to be used to find people who have COVID-19 without symptoms who might be unknowingly passing it on”.
Under Tier 4 restrictions, all non-essential shops will close, and Oxfordshire residents will be told to stay at home except for essential travel. Hairdressers and gyms must also close in Tier 4 areas. This is a dramatic difference from freedoms allowed under Tier 2 restrictions, where pubs, bars, and cafes can remain open to customers from the same household.
With speculation growing over school closures in January, it is unclear whether students will be able to return to Oxford for Hilary term. Currently, students are able to move into or out of Tier 4 areas if they have been stranded at university, with the advice that they should get a test first wherever possible.
The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine has submitted its full data package to the The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and a decision on the vaccine is expected within days. It is believed that the vaccine will be effective against the new variant of COVID-19.
This story is being updated as new information is made available.