UK govt warned that relaxation of rules over Christmas poses risks

COVID-19 cases rose in London during the last weeks of a national lockdown even as prevalence in England as a whole fell, a study said on Tuesday, adding that a planned relaxation of rules over Christmas posed risks. London will move into England’s highest tier of coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Wednesday morning after an exponential rise in cases.

Meanwhile, British scientists are trying to establish whether the rapid spread in southern England of a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is linked to key mutations they have detected in the strain, they said on Tuesday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more than 1,000 cases of the new variant had been identified, mainly in southeastern England.

Although there was currently nothing to suggest the new strain was likely to cause more serious disease or that it would not respond to a vaccine, Hancock said that it could be contributing to higher infection rates.

“Over the last week, we’ve seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire,” Hancock told the House of Commons in a statement, referring to counties near London.