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Brits under strict Tier 4 restrictions could have to live by the measures until the Covid vaccine is rolled out, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested.
The south East of England, East and London were plunged into lockdown-style Tier 4 measures just six days before Christmas.
Under the rules, anyone living within Tier 4 will be unable to mix with people outside of their immediate household bubble.
It put a spanner in the works for millions of Brits who had planned to go home for the festive period as Boris Johnson had previously promised a five-day break.
Confronted by Sky News host Sophy Ridge, Matt Hancock said Brits in Tier 4 "will not be coming out anytime soon."
He added that the new variant is going to be "very difficult" to keep under control "until the vaccine’s rolled out."
Ms Ridge asked: "Just to prepare ourselves is it likely if you are in a Tier 4 area to you will be in a Tier 4 area until the vaccine is rolled out?"
The Health Secretary told Ms Ridge: "Given how much faster this new variant spreads it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until the vaccine’s rolled out.
"We're really got to get this under control and the cases in the Tier 4 areas, as you've seen from the graphs that have been presented, have absolutely rocketed in the last few days.
"We've got a long way to go to sort this. Essentially, we've got to get that vaccine rolled out to get people safe."
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Asked whether Tier 4 restrictions may be extended to other parts of the UK, Mr Hancock said: One of the reasons we brought in very strict travel restrictions saying you shouldn't leave a Tier 4 area, you should stay at home, is to try and prevent this from spreading across the rest of the country and, indeed, to other parts of the country who don't already have it.
"We're trying to protect the rest of the country because under the old variant Tier 3 restrictions were working, and you can see that in several parts of England.
"We want to restrict the spread of this as well as stopping out it from spreading in the areas where it's already rife."
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