Published: 17:46, 19 December 2020
| Updated: 12:08, 20 December 2020
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the stricter Tier 4 measures for the county during a press conference at Downing Street this afternoon. Here's what we know about the tighter restrictions we will face from tomorrow.
What do the new restrictions for Kent involve?
The new rules announced today will see life in the county return to something resembling the national lockdown in November.
From midnight Tier 4 restrictions will come into force in all current Tier 3 areas across the south and east of England, which includes Kent.
A stay-at-home order is central to the new rules, with workers urged to carry out the jobs from home where possible, although those who must travel for education or work purposes can continue to do so.
The mixing of households is also significantly restricted, with the vast majority of people only permitted to meet with one other person from outside their household in an outdoor public space.
However, there are some exceptions, such as support bubbles which remain unaffected, allowing those at risk of isolation or loneliness to still receive vital contact.
In a major blow to the economy in the run up to the festive season, all non-essential retailers will be forced to shut their doors. Hairdressers, nail bars and indoor entertainment venues are also to be closed.
Does this mean Christmas is cancelled?
Unfortunately for those who were planning a gathering next week, it does mean Christmas cannot proceed as expected.
The Prime Minister had been desperate to avoid being seen to 'cancel Christmas' but his said hand has been forced by the worrying medical evidence surrounding the news strain of the virus, which is believed to be fast-spreading and behind the recent surge in infections across Kent and beyond.
Now, in Tier 4 areas, people are being told they must only spend Christmas with the people they live with. While else where in the country the controversial plan to ease restrictions to allow people to form bubbles with other households for five days has been amended, now people should only meet up with others on Christmas Day itself.
Asked what message he would give to people whose bags were packed ready for Christmas travel, Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, simply said: "Please unpack it."
People in the lower tiers are also being advised that they should not travel into the Tier 4 areas where the pandemic is currently at its worst.
Why are tougher measures for Kent necessary?
Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about a "highly contagious" new strain of Covid-19, which is said to have originated in Kent.
In a statement earlier today, Prof Whitty said: "As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance.
"As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly."
The mutant strain is thought to be responsible for coronavirus cases in Kent and Medway rocketing over the past month.
The total tally of the county's cases for the entire pandemic was 24,112 on November 13. By December 13, this had more than doubled to 54,998.
What do we know about the mutant strain of Covid?
Public Health England (PHE) said that, as of December 13, 1,108 cases with this new variant had been identified, predominantly in the south and east of England.
It has been named VUI – 202012/01 – the first variant under investigation in December.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said there is nothing to suggest this new strain is more likely to cause serious disease.
He also said the latest clinical advice is that it is highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.
According to some national newspaper reports, this strain of Covid is 50% more infectious.
There are fears some people are catching it despite social distancing and wearing PPE, the Sun reports.
What's the situation in Kent?
The total number people in the county confirmed to have caught coronavirus since the pandemic started has risen 128% in the space of a month.
Meanwhile, the number of people in Kent's hospitals with Covid-19 has now soared past the Spring peak.
Latest figures show there are 934 patients with Covid in hospitals across the county, compared to 622 during the worst days of the first wave - a rise of 50%.
So far this month, 397 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. This is already higher than the tally of 355 Covid deaths in November.
Is there any reason to be cheerful?
Yes. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be "approved before the New Year".
Senior Whitehall sources believe that the Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency will authorise the vaccine on December 28 or 29, according to MailOnline.
Professor Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said this morning that the Oxford jab will allow the vaccination process to happen at a 'much faster pace'.
Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people have already received the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the UK, after it was approved by the MHRA earlier this month.
While the Pfizer vaccine, needs to be stored at around -70, the Oxford vaccine can be kept at room temperature. Once the Oxford vaccine is approved, football stadia and race courses nationwide will open from the first week of January to allow mass vaccinations, according to the Telegraph.