England was put on notice for a New Year lockdown on Monday amid warnings the new mutant strain of coronavirus had spread across the country.
An announcement that large areas of England will join London and parts of southeast England in tier four is expected on December 30, when the next review of the tier system is due.
The clampdown is expected to come into force in the New Year.
It comes after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned on Monday that tougher restrictions will be needed to combat the new variant of coronavirus now spreading across the UK.
Although he said a decision on tier four areas was for politicians, Sir Patrick said cases had spread ‘everywhere’ and warned the country to brace itself for further restrictions.
‘I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country and I think it’s likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced,’ Sir Patrick said.
More scientists have now joined calls for stricter measures, warning the alternative could be a ‘human disaster’.
Professor Robert West, who sits on Sage’s behaviour science panel, said the Government’s current methods were unlikely to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Speaking during a briefing led by scientists, he said that England needed to move to ‘stricter but more rational social distancing rules,’ and build a test, travel, isolate and support programme similar to ones seen in East Asia.
He said: ‘It sounds expensive, but the alternative could well be a catastrophic collapse in confidence in the country’s ability to control the virus and the economic, human and social disaster that would follow.’
University College London professor of infectious disease Andrew Hayward also backed a national lockdown, telling The Guardian: ‘I think it’s clearer to give a consistent national message because although the levels of risk are different in different parts of the country, they’re still there and they’re still substantial.’
Meanwhile it is understood that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned the Prime Minister that the number of patients in hospital with Covid is on course to match the April peak by New Year’s Eve – and will continue increasing in January.
Downing Street yesterday tried to play down suggestions that a third national lockdown was imminent, saying there were no plans to move more areas into tier four before the next review.
But Sir Patrick said the new strain, which is thought to spread up to 70% more easily, was already present ‘around the country’.
He added: ‘It’s localised in some places but we know there are cases everywhere, so it’s not as though we can stop this getting into other places.’
Calls for a third lockdown came as more than 40 countries banned flights to and from Britain, including Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
In another blow, Stormont is advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Sources told Mail Online that Boris Johnson is ‘deeply concerned’ by the extraordinary speed at which the virus has spread since the last lockdown, which ended less than three weeks ago.
During yesterday’s conference he admitted the tougher restrictions could be in place for months but insisted things would get better by Spring with the roll-out of the vaccine.
However signalling a major U-turn could be on the cards, he said the return of pupils to classrooms in the New Year would be kept under review.
Asked directly if children would return to the classroom on time, he said: ‘The most useful thing I can tell you at this stage is obviously we want, if we possibly can, to get schools back in a staggered way at the beginning of January.’
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