London will be placed under tier three coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday amid a surge in cases across the capital, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary revealed the decision during a briefing for MPs on Monday afternoon and later confirmed it in a statement to the Commons.
Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will also be moved into tier three.
Under the strict rules all hospitality venues, including pubs and restaurants, will be limited to takeaway only.
The tiers were not due to be reviewed until Wednesday, but the government decided to act quicker.
The change in tiers will come into force at 12.01am on Wednesday.
Hancock also told the Commons a new variant of coronavirus has been identified in England.
“I need to tell the House that over the last week, we’ve seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire,” he said.
“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.”
London is currently in tier two, but cases have spiked across the city in recent days.
One MP said: “The data we saw on Thursday suggested targeted interventions could have worked, but the escalation in infection suggests only swift and effective action can work now.”
MPs were also warned on a call with public health officials earlier on Monday that infections in the capital were “off the scale”.
The latest official figures show there are 17 London boroughs where the seven-day rate exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people.
Havering has the highest coronavirus rate in the capital, with 1,314 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 9 – the equivalent of 506.3 cases per 100,000 people. This is up from a rate of 321.3 in the seven days to December 2.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has said tier three restrictions would have a “catastrophic” economic impact on the city.
But despite the concern about a rise in infections, No.10 said it had “no plans” to scrap the five-day Christmas pause in restrictions.
Three households can be together for five days between December 23 and 27 regardless of what tier the area is in or whether people isolated, the government has said.