Covid-19 Live News and Updates

Police officers patrolling London on Monday.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Struggling to limit the spread of a potentially more infectious variant of the coronavirus, the British government ordered more sections of England to be placed under the most restrictive lockdown measures on Wednesday, as health officials said severely curtailing human contact was the only way to protect people.

“The new variant makes everything so much harder because it spreads so much faster,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference.

Two variants, the one detected in the U.K. and another in South Africa, are currently being studied by scientists, and while early indications suggest they are both more transmissible, more laboratory tests are needed to gain a fuller understanding of the dangers they pose.

New infections are soaring and the number of people in the hospital — nearly 19,000 — is about where it was at the peak of the outbreak in the spring. On Tuesday, 691 deaths were attributed to the virus, he said.

“That is 691 people who died just before Christmas,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference. “Against this backdrop of rising infection, rising hospitalization and rising numbers of people dying of coronavirus, it is vital that we act.”

Areas of England including Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire will move to the highest level of restrictions starting the day after Christmas, Mr. Hancock said.

Mr. Hancock also said that British officials were concerned about the spread of the virus variant identified in South Africa. He said it was even more easily transmitted than the variant already spreading widely in London and southeast England.

The British authorities have detected two cases of the South Africa variant, Mr. Hancock said. In both cases, the infected people had been in contact with people who had traveled to Britain from South Africa in recent weeks. Mr. Hancock said that those infected with the new variant and their close contacts would be quarantined, and that travel from South Africa would be restricted.

At least five other countries have put in place similar travel bans.

And more than 50 countries have banned travelers from the U.K. since Prime Minister Boris Johnson first raised the alarm over the variant spreading in England on Saturday, when he imposed a lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast.

The United States has not imposed such a ban. But in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that sheriff’s deputies would conduct home and hotel visits to ensure that travelers from the United Kingdom were quarantining as required.

“We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling in from the U.K.,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Britain had developed a three-tiered system to limit the spread of the virus in the fall. But the discovery of the new variant forced the government to add yet another, more restrictive, fourth tier.

Under the fourth tier, all nonessential businesses must close and people cannot meet with others indoors unless they live with them or they are part of their support bubbles. People living alone or who are the only adults in their houses may form support networks with another household.

The agreement gives the United States a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million people.
Credit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

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