By Herbert Soden LDRS

The new strain of coronavirus is “very concerning” so people must “double their efforts” with social distancing, a Gateshead health boss warned.

Millions of people living in the South East of England were plunged into Tier 4 restrictions over the weekend following the rapid spread of a new strain.

The Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three households to meet up over the holiday period – was also severely curtailed and now only applies to Christmas Day.

The decision came after scientists concluded that the mutant strain of the virus identified by Public Health England – known as VUI2020/01 – was spreading more quickly.

Alice Wiseman, director of public health, at Gateshead Council, said that the short notice decision would have a big impact on local families.

She said: “I know this news will be a huge disappointment to so many people in the North East. To make this decision so close to Christmas will have a huge impact on our residents, many of whom will have made plans to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones.”

However, she said that the council had concerns about the Government’s plans to ease restrictions.

She continued: “We have always been extremely concerned about the five-day easing of restrictions and the impact that that would have on rising cases in the New Year.”

Ms Wiseman warned that people must now “double their efforts” with social distancing.

She added:”The news of the new variant, and the fact that it is spreading so much more, is very concerning.

“We must do everything we can to stop this spreading in our communities and, as we have done all year, focus on protecting those in our community who are most vulnerable.

“However, whilst the virus has changed, the things we have to do to stop the spread remain the same.

“We need to double our efforts with social distancing, hand hygiene and isolation if you have any symptoms.

“Limiting the number of contacts and households mixing will also ensure you are more likely to protect your family.

“Whilst we recognise that this is not the news that residents want to hear we would urge people to stick to the guidance, think carefully about plans for Christmas Day and protect each other.”

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Boris Johnson said: “I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.

“So I know how disappointing this will be.

“But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

“When the science changes, we must change our response.”