Coronavirus strain horror as UK could face strict lockdown until EASTER

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Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, has said the situation is “not looking optimistic right now”. He spoke after Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said he expects a spike in infections after an “inevitable period of mixing” over Christmas.

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council, has also said people should anticipate strict lockdown rules until spring.

Boris Johnson called an urgent meeting of his Cabinet on Saturday after a rise in cases of coronavirus, prompting new and much stricter Tier 4 restrictions in London and the south-east.

This has effectively cancelled Christmas plans for millions of people.

A mutated strain of Covid-19 is believed to be behind the surge in the south east of England, where the R rate has soared to 1.4 in recent weeks.

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More than 40 countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Canada, Russia, India and Hong Kong, have banned UK flights to protect the public from the new virus strain.

Asked about the prospect of Tier 4 rules lasting until Easter, Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Possibly. The Government gets criticised for changing policy all the time.

“This virus is unpredictable, how people behave is unpredictable, so we will track the epidemic as we always have done.

“Policy will be formed on the basis of that.

“The tiers are reviewed every two weeks and will continue to be reviewed. But I certainly agree it’s not looking optimistic right now.”

He also said the speed at which vaccines are rolled out will have a large impact.

Mr Johnson said on Monday 500,000 people have had the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine so far.

Prof Ferguson headed the team at Imperial College London which produced the computer-modelled research that led to the first national lockdown in March.

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He added: “We said right at the start back in March that the problem with lockdown while it’s effective at slowing the spread and saving lives, is it’s only a holding action and the final answer to this is the rollout of vaccines.

“The faster we get vaccines into people’s arms, the quicker we’ll be able to go back not completely to normal, but at least be able to relax restrictions.”

Mr Hewitt said police officers are “realistic” about how long lockdown measures may last.

He told the Press Association: “We are all very realistic that this is not going to finish any time soon.

“As has been made fairly clear by the Prime Minister really we’re talking to spring time before we can really see things dramatically changing.”

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Mr Johnson sought to reassure world leaders about how quickly Britain has reacted to news of the strain.

He said: “We took prompt and decisive action the very next day to curb the spread of the variant within the UK.”

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