UPDATE 1-UK's Johnson summons ministers over new COVID-19 variant -The Telegraph

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LONDON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called senior ministers to an unscheduled meeting on Friday evening to discuss how to contain a new, more virulent variant of the coronavirus, The Telegraph newspaper reported.

An emergency toughening of COVID-19 restrictions could be announced as soon as Saturday, possibly including restrictions on travel between the southeast of England, including London, and the rest of the country, the newspaper said.

A spokesman for the prime minister said he was unable to comment on the report immediately.

Britain’s government on Monday said a rise in new infections might be partly linked to the new variant as it moved its capital city and other areas into the highest tier of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Telegraph also reported on Friday that government officials expected the AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine would clear regulatory approval on Dec. 28 or 29, helping to accelerate the vaccination campaign.

Johnson said on Friday he hoped that England would not need to go into a third lockdown after Christmas. (Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru Writing by William Schomberg Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)