Sports venues across large swathes of the south-east and east of England must close their doors again from Saturday after Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed changes to the coronavirus tier system.
Hancock said Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Surrey with the exception of Waverley, Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex plus Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire would move from tier two to the highest-risk tier three category due to a rise in Covid-19 cases and coronavirus-related hospital admissions.
Outdoor venues in those areas had been allowed to welcome up to 2,000 spectators since December 2 but must now revert to being behind closed doors.
The Government had already completed an emergency review which had placed London, Essex and parts of Hertfordshire into tier three from Wednesday, amid concerns of a new strain of the virus contributing to a rise in cases.
Hancock said in the south-east of England cases were up 46 per cent in the last week, hospital admissions are up by more than a third.
In the east of England cases are up two-thirds in the last week, and hospital admissions are up by nearly half, he said.
Many areas of the midlands and northern England were left in tier three, with only Bristol and north Somerset being moved from tier three to tier two.
Bristol Rovers would therefore have been able to welcome fans for their Sky Bet League One match against Oxford on Saturday, but the game has been postponed due to a Covid outbreak.
The news means only four Premier League clubs – Brighton, Everton, Liverpool and Southampton – are able to admit supporters from Saturday.
Hancock said: “We’ve come so far, we mustn’t blow it now.
“No one wants tougher restrictions any longer than necessary, but where they are necessary we must put them in place to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and protect life.”