Thousands of Irish people living in the UK have been forced to cancel plans to spend Christmas at home after new lockdowns were announced last night.
The relaxation of coronavirus rules for Christmas has been scrapped for millions of people in London and large parts of the south-east of England.
It comes after a new strain of COVID-19 has caused a rapid increase in cases.
The British capital and places like Bedfordshire, Kent and most of Surrey and Essex will be entering a new tougher level of restrictions under Tier 4.
Non-essential shops, gyms and hairdressers will have to close from midnight and people will be asked to stay at home.
For the rest of England, the relaxed rules have been narrowed to just one day – the 25th – where up to three households will be allowed to mix.
“England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people considering leaving Tier 4 areas now should unpack their bag and stay at home.”
Tier 4 Londoners in St Pancras right now: pic.twitter.com/tOQ39RT4ei
— Sean Spooner (@spoonersean) December 19, 2020
Wales entered a national lockdown from midnight, with household gatherings allowed only on Christmas Day.
In Scotland, the festive bubble has also been reduced to just one day – and there will be a “strict” travel ban to the rest of the UK.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus: No plans to cancel flights
All non-essential travel out of London and the south-east of England was banned from midnight but airlines flying to Ireland have not announced any cancellations.
Irish people will still try to get home despite the travel ban, according to a recruiter who works with professionals there.
A poll by FRS Recruitment last month found upwards of four in ten Irish workers in the UK planned to jet back.
The head of the company, Colin Donnery, believes that figure is likely to have grown since, with the majority due to travel in the next three or four days.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh this morning, Sky News reporter Enda Brady says the British Prime Minister’s announcement led to a scramble of people trying to get out of Tier 4 areas last night.
He said train stations in London were “absolutely jam-packed” because word of the new restrictions “spread like wildfire”.
“A lot of people watched the news conference live and realised we have a matter of hours to get out of London,” he said.
“People just wanted to take that chance, train fairs rocketed, trains were packed.
Mr Brady added that Tier 4 “is basically the tiniest Christmas possible”.
The restrictions may not come as too much of a surprise, however, given that medical experts in the UK have been warning that the idea of a window for the easing of restrictions over Christmas was “madness”.
He said: “Then out of nowhere, this virus strain, this mutation has come along with about 1,000 cases in a week.
“Now we’re hearing from the Prime Minister that it’s 70% more transmissible than the original COVID, so they’ve got a real crisis on their hands now.”
The Netherlands has since banned air travel from the UK due to fears over this new strain of coronavirus.