UK introduces tougher lockdown rules

The UK tightened its lockdown restrictions on Wednesday, as coronavirus cases there skyrocket and authorities try to stop the spread of a new variant of the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that nearly three quarters of Britain would be placed under tier 4, the highest level of lockdown, from Thursday onwards.

He also urged people to stay home for New Year's Eve.

"We've seen a 40 percent increase in cases in England in the last week alone, almost 15 percent more patients in hospital, more than at the peak of the first wave. And yesterday, sadly, we recorded almost a thousand deaths across the UK for the first time since April. "

Under the tougher limits, pubs, hotels and restaurants, as well as 'non-essential' places like clothing shops, must close and households cannot mix, with few exceptions.

Areas that fall under 'tier 4' include the Midlands, the Northeast, parts of the Northwest and parts of the Southwest all joining London, already under the toughest restrictions since December 19.

Britain has suffered one of the worst death tolls in Europe.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the country's hospitals face significant pressure and that the UK was heading for a quote "catastrophe" over the coming weeks, if tougher measures weren't introduced.

Scientists have confirmed the new variant of the virus is up to 70 % more transmissible than the original.

The government also said secondary schools would delay and stagger their reopening after Christmas to allow for testing, while some primary schools in the worst-hit areas will stay closed.