Britain confirms the existence of a new COVID-19 variant

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the new strain of the coronavirus is “out of control” and suggested parts of England will be stuck in the new, highest tier of restrictions until a vaccine is rolled out.

More than 16 million Britons are now required to stay at home after a lockdown came into force Sunday in London and southeast England and the government scrapped plans to relax rules on socializing at Christmas.

The Netherlands, Italy and Belgium have banned flights to and from the UK to prevent the new Covid-19 variant from entering the countries, as reports said other European countries were considering similar measures. The Eurostar from Belgium was also subject to restrictions.

Scotland banned travellers from England, while Wales went into another lockdown as health officials tried to grapple with the new variant of the Covid-19 virus that is assessed to be up to 70% faster in transmission than the earlier strain – most evident in recent days in Kent.

Scotland Yard commander Alex Murray said on Sunday, “I know Londoners will be deeply saddened by the news that the planned relaxation of the rules over the Christmas period has been scrapped. The news on the virus spread is stark and deeply concerning, and we must all now take immediate action to prevent the spread by staying at home and keeping ourselves safe.

“Across the city, officers will be deployed to take action against those people whose selfish action risks jeopardising the health of Londoners. Likewise, we will continue our joint enforcement with London’s 32 local authorities – clamping down on those businesses that also flout the rules and put health at risk.”