“Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts,” Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage quipped on Twitter Saturday. “You have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939.”
Congratulations Prime Minister and your experts, you have caused the first evacuation of London since 1939. https://t.co/0NBNO0NdWN
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 19, 2020
Videos posted on social media showed large crowds at rail stations queuing to escape the area designated as Tier 4 under the UK’s COVID-19 rules.
Johnson said earlier on Saturday that those living in the Tier 4 zone – which includes London, the Southeast, and Peterborough in the east – should not mix with anyone outside their own household, effectively cancelling Christmas. Non-essential businesses will be closed from Sunday.
The crackdown came “in response to a new strain of coronavirus that allegedly spreads 70 percent faster”, although there’s currently no indication it’s more lethal or more vaccine-resistant than the earlier variant of the virus.
However, if the goal were to keep the new strain from being spread to other parts of the country, the lockdown may have been ill conceived.
The announcement of a midnight Saturday London lockdown gave residents only about eight hours to find a way out of the city.
Videos on Twitter show massive crowds of travellers trying to flee London, including a long line of people waiting to board the train for Leeds from St Pancras Station.
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
“Every person on this train, including myself, has made what is probably a very silly and irresponsible decision to travel, albeit within the law,” journalist Harriet Clugston tweeted.
“But that’s what people were always going to do to be together at Christmas.”
She added that the train to Leeds was being delayed because of overcrowding.
The scene at St Pancras was so crowded and chaotic, it was announced that social distancing wouldn’t be possible, the Evening Standard website reported. Londoners had apparently ignored a statement by Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty during the prime minister’s afternoon press conference advising people trying to flee Tier 4 areas to unpack their bags and stay at home.
“If they didn’t want this new variant to get out of London, it’s just found a possible new route,” ITV News journalist Chris Ship said. “It’s called the train line to the East Midlands from St Pancras Station tonight.”
Another commenter tweeted out a transport map showing the heavy flow of traffic at a time when people have been advised to stay at home. “Come on, London,” the Twitter user said. “Prove that lockdowns work by taking your new mutant plague to the four corners of the country before midnight.”
— Burnside (@BurnsideNotTosh) December 19, 2020
But former UK Independence Party leader Henry Bolton said that, given the new coronavirus variant spreads 70 percent faster, Johnson had made a courageous and correct decision. “It’s extremely unwise, negligent even, not to review your decisions in light of new information or changed circumstances.”
It’s not clear what sort of COVID-19 troubles could be waiting for the evacuees at their destinations.
Government rules that allowed as many as three households to gather from December 23 to December 27 were cancelled in Tier 4 areas and curtailed elsewhere in England.
Outside Tier 4, three-household gatherings are limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five-day period that had been planned. Non-essential travel in and out of Tier 4 areas was banned as of midnight.
The shutdown will remain effective until at least December 30, when the government will reassess the situation.