From midnight on Wednesday the whole of Lancashire will be thrust into Tier 4.
The announcement that tighter restrictions will be brought in before the New Year came at 3pm on Wednesday, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock addressed MPs in the House of Commons.
The move means that from one minute past midnight, non-essential businesses in Lancashire must close – including all beauty salons and gyms, and restrictions will also be placed on travel and social interaction.
People must not leave their home or garden unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ and people must not meet socially indoors, in a private garden or most outdoor public venues with anybody they do not live with or have a support bubble with.
Mr Hancock said the latest data had been carefully considered and the decision made in order to limit the spread of the virus as case rates rise across the country.
He said: “Sharply rising cases and the hospitalisations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading and the majority of new cases recorded yesterday are believed to be the new variant.
“Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.
“It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area, including the remaining parts of the South East, as well as large parts of the Midlands, the North West, the North East and the South West.”
The following areas in the North West will be asked to stay at home from the beginning of December 31:
Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Blackpool, Preston, Hyndburn, Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Wyre, Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, including Eden, Carlisle, South Lakeland, Barrow-in-Furness, Copeland, Allerdale, and Greater Manchester including Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan.
Liverpool City Region, York and North Yorkshire will be moved into Tier 3.
The Health Secretary added: “Even in most areas not moving into Tier 4, cases are rising too, and it is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures more broadly too – including in Liverpool and North Yorkshire.
“The rest of Yorkshire remains in Tier 3. These changes will take effect from 00:01 tomorrow morning.
“The new variant means that three quarters of the population are now going to be in Tier 4 and almost all of the country in Tiers 3 and 4.
“And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.
“But where we are still able to give places greater freedoms, we will continue to do so.”
Between December 18 and 24, the weekly case rate in England rose to 402.6 per 100,000, a 32 per cent increase on the previous week.
In the North West, rates have increased by 31 per cent to 223.9 per 100,000.
The NHS reports 14,915 patients have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the past week, an 18 per cent increase on the week before.
Evidence shows the new strain of Covid-19 is increasing in the South West, Midlands and parts of the North West, with the majority of the cases identified in London, the South East and the East of England being of the new variant.
Infection rates have increased faster than expected in these areas where the new strain has been circulating and stronger measures are required to get the virus under control.
The news is bittersweet for many, as it comes on the day that a second Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca was approved by medical officials.