Millions more people across the south east and east of England are to be moved into the toughest Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day as the number of Covid-19 cases spread.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also said that two cases of another new strain of Covid-19 linked to South Africa have been identified in the UK.
More details were given at a Downing Street press conference on the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic.
– Which areas are being moved into Tier 4?
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 move into Tier 4 from 00.01am on Boxing Day.
– Are any other areas of England being moved into a tougher tier of Covid 19 safety restrictions?
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire plus Cheshire and Warrington are moving up to Tier 3.
Cornwall and Herefordshire which have seen "sharply rising rates" are moving up to Tier 2, Mr Hancock announced.
– Why are these changes being made now?
All the new measures are being imposed against a backdrop of increasing infections, hospital admissions and a new more contagious variant in the UK which was announced on Friday.
Mr Hancock said Covid-19 is spreading at a "dangerous rate" across large parts of England and it is "better to act sooner".
Mr Hancock said that Tier 3 "is not enough to control the new variant" and the number of cases have been rising in areas which are near to sites which are already in Tier 4 restrictions.
More of the East and South East of England are going into Tier 4 as East Anglia has seen "a significant number of the new variant and we've seen case rates rise sharply", Mr Hancock said.
There are also "some early signs" of the new variant and rising cases in the South West which also now faces tougher restrictions.
– What is known about the new strain from South Africa?
Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.
Mr Hancock described this new variant as "highly concerning" as it is "yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK".
– What is being done to try and contain this new strain?
Those with the new strain of the virus along with anyone who has been in close contact with them have been quarantined.
Immediate restrictions have been imposed on travel from South Africa and the Government is telling those who have been in contact with anyone who has been there in the last fortnight to quarantine.
Further investigation into this new strain are set to take place at Porton Down.
– What is happening about vaccinations?
Vaccinations have begun in care homes.
Mr Hancock said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is being delivered in more than 500 sites across the UK, including care homes, with more to follow.
He added that the Chelsea Pensioners are being vaccinated, along with care home residents right across the country on Wednesday afternoon.
– Are there any developments on the testing programme?
There are 116 local areas which have signed up for community testing.
Mr Hancock called the rapid tests "extremely effective" at finding cases.
A further £149 million is being used to boost rapid testing in care homes.
Anyone who works in care homes in England will receive two rapid tests a week, in addition to their weekly PCR tests.