Crowds of passengers have packed London train stations as many attempted to flee the UK capital following the announcement of tougher coronavirus restrictions.
On Sunday (local time), Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a stricter lockdown on more than 16 million people in England as a new coronavirus strain was detected.
Large parts of eastern and southeast England, including London, would be placed under Tier 4 restrictions.
Following the news of the fresh lockdown, footage of people flooding one London train station started to circulate on social media.
It showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.
Travellers were told social distancing “will not be possible” due to the volume of people on board and those who felt uncomfortable should not stay on the train.
By 7pm (local time) on Saturday, there were no trains available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.
Boris Johnson backflips on Christmas Covid restrictions
Mr Johnson tore up plans to allow three households to mix indoors for five days over the festive period, and said London and southeast England, which are currently in the highest level of a three-tier system of rules, would now be placed in a new Tier 4 level, similar to those of a recent national lockdown.
Tier 4, which is the highest possible level in England, effectively returns residents to the rules in place during the lockdown earlier this year.
People must stay at home except for essential reasons such as work, and non-essential retail will close as will indoor leisure and entertainment.
“It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” Mr Johnson told a news conference.
“I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me.”
Within minutes of Mr Johnson’s announcement, shoppers hit the streets for a final attempt to stock up on Christmas presents and supplies.
The UK’s other nations, whose response to the pandemic differs from that of England at times, also took action.
Scotland said on Saturday it would impose a ban on travel to the rest of the United Kingdom, and the Christmas easing would be limited to December 25 only.
All of Wales will go into Tier 4 from midnight, but two households can mix on Christmas Day.
Like other countries in Europe, Britain is battling to contain new waves of the virus.
It reported 27,052 new cases on Saturday, taking the total over two million, and 534 more deaths, taking the overall official toll to more than 67,000.
Lockdown sparked by variant of virus
There has been a surge in infections sparked by the new virus strain called VUI202012/01.
“This virus has taken off, it’s moving fast and it’s leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,” Britain's Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the authorities had alerted the World Health Organisation and were continuing to analyse the data.
“There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” Mr Johnson said.
“There’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant.”
Other countries have also reported variants of the virus. South Africa said on Friday one such strain was driving a second wave of infections there.
With AAP and Reuters
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