Coronavirus rules over the Christmas period have been tightened in a bid to stop a rapidly spreading new strain of the disease – but Suffolk has avoided new Tier 4 restrictions.

Boris Johnson announced that some areas currently in Tier 3 would move to a new Tier 4 from midnight tonight, due to the new variant of Covid-19 that has been detected.

The new tier, he said, would be similar to the November lockdown. Residents in those areas must stay at home, with limited exemptions. Non-essential retails and indoors gyms must close.

All of London and a lot of the South-East – including much of Essex, but excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring – has been placed in the new tier.

However, the five-day relaxation of restrictions over Christmas has now been cut to just one day, with the Christmas bubble limit of three households applying only to Christmas Day.

Mr Johnson also stressed the need for people to stay local during the Christmas period.

People who are now living under Tier 4 restrictions are not allowed to mix with other households at all over Christmas.

The move comes as it was confirmed that the R number in the East of England had grown to be highest in the country.

Government data revealed that the region's rate is now between 1.2 and 1.4 – higher than the national average for England at 1.1 and 1.3.

The figures also revealed the growth rate has risen, meaning Covid-19 infections are increasing between 4% and 6% every day.

All districts in Suffolk have experienced a rise in coronavirus cases over the last few weeks, with Ipswich's infection rate the highest in the county at 222.8 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to December 15.

NHS data also revealed that the number of hospitalised Covid patients in East Anglia is the greatest it has ever been.

As of Friday, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) was treating 180 coronavirus patients – higher than the 143 during the first wave in April.

Of ESNEFT's current Covid patients, 130 are being treated at Ipswich Hospital.

Sudbury Mercury: Stuart Keeble, director of public health for SuffolkStuart Keeble, director of public health for Suffolk (Image: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL)

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk's public health director, said there had been an "acceleration" of hospital cases over the last four or five days, following an increase in cases since October.

Mr Keeble also confirmed that a new, more infectious strain of Covid, called VUI-202012/01, had been identified locally.

He said: "They identified a new strain of the virus, originally in and around the Kent and south east area.

"We are still trying to learn more about that but there were a report from Public Health England that they had identified some of this new strain in Ipswich, in Norwich and in Cambridge.

"Nationally this strain they believe is more infectious but not more dangerous in that sense, but obviously it can lead to more rapid spread."