THE new “mutant” strain of Covid-19 is worrying local leaders, who have urged residents to stick to the rules as another shutdown begins.

The New Forest is now in a third lockdown with schools, non-essential businesses and the hospitality industry all forced to close after coronavirus rates across the country rose sharply.

Ringwood mayor, Tony Ring, urged locals to “stick to the rules”, warning the new “mutant” virus variant - which is easier to catch - made this more important than ever.

Fordingbridge mayor Edward Hale added: “It is very sad this area is in lockdown again and I know how difficult this will be for many local businesses and residents. “I hope our community is able to come together again to help those who will particularly struggle in these conditions.”

There will be “better times ahead” and he trusted “amazing” local groups to step up, he added.

The new restrictions mean you must stay at home except for shopping for necessities; going to work if you cannot work from home; or for exercising locally once a day, alone, with your household or support bubble, or with one other person; meeting your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary; or seeking medical assistance, or to avoid injury, illness or risk of harm including domestic abuse.

Ringwood mayor Tony Ring added: “I’m sure that we all thought that Covid would ensure that circumstances in early 2021 would not be much improved on 2020 but hoped for better – reality – hopefully short term – suggests otherwise so the importance of keeping ourselves and others safe from infection is greatly magnified by the virulence of the mutant virus and we must maintain the discipline we earlier demonstrated.

“Vaccine will soon be made available but unless and until we see evidence of eliminated risk and eased restrictions we really must stick to the rules, adjust to the resulting challenges and thereby look forward to a return to life nearer to the normality we have previously enjoyed. Take care, stay safe make sure that later 2021 is healthy and happy.”

New Forest District Council leader Barry Rickman said: “This latest lockdown is a stark warning as cases rise sharply, nationally and here in the New Forest. We must once again all pull together and stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives.”

“I know our residents are following the rules to keep the area safe, and again I implore you all to stay home as much as you possibly can. Yes, there are times when you may have to go out, to work if you cannot work from home, or if you have caring responsibilities. But as much as you can, stay as near to your home as you can.

“Keep looking out for your neighbours and please, please, let’s get this beaten. Get your vaccine when you are contacted by the NHS, and get a test if you have any symptoms (a high temperature, a new continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste).“We will continue to support our residents and businesses in any way we can,” he added.

New Forest West MP Sir Desmond spoke of the impact of another lockdown. He said: “It is clear that lockdowns don’t work and that they impose a devastating social and economic cost including damage to the education of our children. The virus does not require hospitalisation for the vast majority of us. We should incentivise and provide for the protection of the vulnerable groups likely to be hospitalised and allow the rest of us to live normally.”

Assistant Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: “We will continue to follow the tried and tested approach of engaging, explaining and encouraging people to comply with the restrictions. However I have emphasised to our teams that robust enforcement action should be taken as required, where blatant breaches in public places or private premises are reported to us."

"Limiting the spread of infection is everybody’s responsibility, and not just down to the police or enforcement. We will continue to work with our health colleagues, businesses, government, hospitality owners, local authorities, universities, and others, as we ensure that we all play our part in keeping our communities as safe as possible throughout the pandemic," she added.