Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Millions of people across Britain, including London, were placed into the strictest tier of COVID-19 restrictions Monday after a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus was identified.
Under the new rules announced in Parliament by British Health Minister Matt Hancock, more than 60% of England's population -- mainly those living in the southeast of the country -- were put under "Tier 3" regulations beginning Wednesday.
The government's announcement moves more than 10 million people from Tier 2 to Tier 3, The Guardian reported.
Tier 3 rules prohibit indoor visits with people from other households, closes restaurants for all but takeout and delivery service and shutters non-essential retail, including entertainment venues such as cinemas, theaters and concert halls.
Cases are rising quickly in London and elsewhere in the southeast of England, including Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. Cases in the capital spiked to more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day Sunday, surging from an average of 2,500 daily cases last week.
Hancock said the existence of a new variant may explain "very sharp, exponential rises" seen in southeastern England -- about 1,000 cases so far.
"We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant, but no matter its cause, we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out," he said.
Similar variants of COVID-19 have been identified elsewhere, Hancock said.
The health minister recommended against traveling into a Tier 3 area unless absolutely necessary, which could deal a harsh blow to London retailers hoping to attract Christmas shoppers.
Putting London into the strictest COVID-19 category will put thousands of jobs at risk, the Confederation of British Industry said.
"It's vital that any tightening of measures anywhere across England is shaped by clear evidence, consistently applied, and accompanied by increased support for businesses in the worst-hit sectors," CBI spokesman Eddie Curzon said.
"Vaccinations are now under way and offer tangible reasons for optimism in 2021 -- the government must do everything possible to help businesses survive until risks recede and trade returns," he added.
"This is incredibly disappointing for businesses, who have suffered so much already," London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a tweet. "The virus is accelerating -- and the lives of Londoners are at risk -- so we must all follow the rules."