An additional six million people will be in Tier 4 of the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions from Boxing Day.

This means a total of 24 million people will now be in Tier 4, or 43% of the population of England.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference today, Mr Hancock said: “From 00.01 on Boxing Day Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, those parts of Essex not yet in Tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire including Portsmouth and Southampton but with the exception of the New Forest will all be escalated to Tier 4.”

Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset (including the North Somerset area), Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire, as well as Cheshire and Warrington, will be moved to tier three.

Lancashire and Greater Manchester areas will remain in Tier 3.

Mr Hancock also said two cases of another new strain of Covid-19 linked to South Africa have been identified in the UK, “Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.”

He added: “We are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigour of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here.”

Mr Hancock continued: “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”

The Health Secretary said both cases and close contacts of the cases have been quarantined, there are immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa and the Government is telling those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.

He added: “These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down.”

Reaction from Warrington

Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols said the town and neighbouring authorities in Cheshire had the highest incidence of the new strain of coronavirus in the North West.

She said: “With the spread of Covid-19 and this new strain, it is understandable that new restrictions need to be introduced in order to control the spread of the virus.

“This is especially acute for us because the scientists have told us today that Warrington and Cheshire have the highest incidence of the new strain in the North West.

“I want to reassure you, though, that although it is more infectious, there is no evidence that the new strain results in more serious illnesses and the vaccine will still be effective.”

She said she would “continue to fight” for economic support.

Ms Nichols added: “I also want to make clear my displeasure that we first had to find this news after it was leaked to a journalist at The Times, rather than being told directly by the Government. It shows a real disrespect to us that has been characteristic of this Government.”

Mr Hancock said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has now submitted full data to the regulator for approval.

He said: “Amid all this difficulty, the great hope for 2021 is of course the vaccine.

“The vaccine is our route out of all this and however tough this Christmas and this winter is going to be, we know that the transforming force of science is helping to find a way through.

“I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine developed here in the UK has submitted its full data package to the MHRA for approval.

“This is the next step towards a decision on the deployment of the vaccine which is already being manufactured, including here in the UK.”

Additional testing

Mr Hancock said 116 local areas had signed up for community testing, with conversations ongoing with more, calling the rapid tests “extremely effective” at finding cases.

He said: “I’m today publishing an assessment of the Liverpool community testing project which shows how effective this can be.

“I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity to take part to protect their local area.

“And at the same time, we’re boosting rapid testing in care homes with a further £149 million to support that effort.

“So all those who work in care homes in England will receive two rapid tests a week, in addition to their weekly PCR tests.”

A further 416 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 47,399, NHS England said on Wednesday.