More areas of south-east and east England will move into tier 3 Covid restrictions, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
From Saturday, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, all of Hertfordshire, Surrey excluding Waverley, Hastings and Rother, as well as Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire will all face the toughest local lockdown measures.
Bristol and North Somerset were also lowered to tier 2, he told the Commons, and Herefordshire would move to tier 1.
The minister also said the areas currently in tier 3, which include Manchester and all of the north-east, would not be moved.
“I regret having to take the action that we have to take,” Hancock told MPs.
“I deem it necessary and there is a strong view right across government that these actions are necessary.
“But I also plead that personal responsibility is absolutely essential to how we as a society should respond to this pandemic.”
Hancock said there were 25,161 new cases on Wednesday and 18,038 people in hospital with the disease.
Warning the winter months “are always the most difficult months for people’s health and for the NHS”, he urged caution and said: “We’ve come so far, we mustn’t blow it now.”
London, most of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire were moved into tier 3 on Wednesday as part of an emergency review earlier this week following a major spike in infections in the south east.
“It’s so vital that everyone sticks at it and does the right thing, especially over this Christmas period,” Hancock added.
“It’s important to remember that this can be a silent disease. One in three people who have the disease has no symptoms but can still pass it on.
“Everyone, therefore, has a personal responsibility to play their part in keeping this pandemic under control.”
It comes after Boris Johnson urged the public to have a “smaller” Christmas than the rules allow amid widespread fear the five-day relaxation of rules will lead to a third wave when the NHS is most under pressure.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged Johnson and Hancock to rethink the measures.
He said: “This isn’t about cancelling Christmas, Santa will still deliver his presents, but is (Hancock) really telling us that allowing indoor mixing of three households across regions and generations for five days is sensible given the virus is raging with such ferocity at the moment?
“And the devastating tragedy is that those who will be most impacted by this virus spreading through the easing are those who will be at the front of the queue for the vaccine in the next month or two.”