London experienced a “wild weekend exodus” on Saturday as residents scrambled to escape the city after the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a top-down emergency lockdown and “canceled Christmas” over concerns about a “new version” of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The New York Times reports that Johnson “abruptly reversed course on Saturday and imposed a wholesale lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast, banning Christmas-season gatherings beyond individual households,” following “evidence of a [COVID-19] variant first detected several weeks ago in southeast England, which the prime minister asserted was as much as 70 percent more transmissible than previous versions.”
The lockdown goes into effect on Sunday, effectively cutting off London and its surrounding suburbs from the rest of the country in order to prevent the “new version” of the novel coronavirus from spreading beyond the country’s capital.
The new measures, the NYT notes, “are the most severe measures the British government has taken since it imposed a lockdown on the country back in March, and reflect a fear that the new variant could supercharge the transmission of the virus as winter takes hold.”
“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” the Prime Minister said in his announcement on Saturday. “We have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast.”
Instead of locking down immediately, though, Londoners took to the streets, rushing to escape the capital city before the new lockdowns took effect, snarling traffic and clogging up public transportation, according to the New York Post.
The Sun compared the city’s train stations to “war zones” “as locals skipped town before the tough new Tier 4 lockdown came into effect at midnight” and noted that “traffic on the A40 leaving London was jammed in the hours after Mr. Johnson’s bombshell announcement.”
A Twitter video, posted by British reporter Harriet Clugston and now viewed millions of times, showed wall-to-wall travelers at a London train station, packed shoulder-to-shoulder without concern for social distancing.
Last train out of Saigon. Queue at St Pancras as we wait to board the Leeds bound train. pic.twitter.com/cFDBDNnYFC
— Harriet Clugston (@HarrietClugston) December 19, 2020
The trains were no better, Clugston said, “crammed” with people and luggage, but she blamed the government’s decision to impose an emergency lockdown, not necessarily the travelers themselves. Johnsons’s announcement, she said, caused “a very predictable stampede of people rushing to get out before the midnight deadline,” and “created crowds of people which increases the risk of virus transmission on the train.”
The Post notes that British scientists believe the “new version” of the novel coronavirus is responsible for 70% of the city’s recent cases. The NYT notes that “preliminary findings” on the virus show it “quickly displacing dozens of competing versions of the coronavirus that have been circulating for longer.”
There is “no evidence that this version of the virus was more lethal or more resistant to vaccines than others,” though — a detail particularly important Sunday as pharmaceutical manufacturer Moderna announced that it has begun shipping millions of doses of its own COVID-19 vaccine, a vaccine more easily stored and administered in locations where the deep freeze that preserves the Pfizer vaccine is not possible.
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