Tougher Covid measures and school closures expected for England
Boris Johnson will set out emergency measures to control the spread of coronavirus amid concerns the NHS risks being overwhelmed.
The Prime Minister will make a televised address at 8pm on Monday after coming under intense pressure to announce a new national lockdown.
Parliament will be recalled on Wednesday and Downing Street said that the move was in response to the “rapidly escalating” numbers of infections following the emergence of the new variant.
Government sources indicated the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed to raise the Covid-19 alert level to five – its highest – meaning “transmission is high or rising exponentially” and “there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”.
The alert level is based on a recommendation by the Joint Biosecurity Centre to the chief medical officers.
The latest figures showed a further 407 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday and there were a record 58,784 more lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
“The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Professor John Edmunds, who works on the Government’s coronavirus response as part of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), warned that “really major additional measures” are needed immediately, with school closures being the “biggest lever” available.
Earlier, Mr Johnson had said there was “no question” that further action was needed and there would be “tough” weeks ahead.
The move comes as Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland will go into lockdown for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.
Setting out the measures to come into force from Tuesday, the First Minister told MSPs in Holyrood: “It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”
Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove was understood to be discussing restrictions with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a call ahead of Mr Johnson’s statement.
The latest data show a 41 per cent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 3, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.
While ministers hailed the rollout of the new Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Mr Johnson warned the nation needed to prepare for some “tough” weeks ahead as the jab was extended to the most vulnerable.
With 78 per cent of England’s population already under the toughest current restrictions, ministers have been examining how successful the Tier 4 measures – which came into force for the first time on December 20 – have been.