The government must impose a national lockdown within 24 hours, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.
Sir Keir said the virus is “clearly out of control” and national restrictions have to be “the first step”.
He said: “It’s no good the prime minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week or two or three. That delay has been the source of so many problems.
“So I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions within the next 24 hours. That has to be the first step to controlling the virus.”
He added: “We can’t allow the prime minister to use up the next two or three weeks and then bring in a national lockdown which is inevitable. Do it now.”
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Sir Keir’s comments come as another 54,990 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK – the sixth day in a row that new daily cases have exceeded 50,000.
A further 454 people have died with coronavirus, government figures show.
It takes the total number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the UK to 75,024.
Three quarters of the population in England are now living under the highest Tier 4 restrictions after 20 million more people were put in on New Year’s Eve.
Tier 4 measures include a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors, and the closure of non-essential shops, as well as hairdressers and gyms. People are encouraged to work from home if possible.
Everyone else in England is in Tier 3, apart from the Isles of Scilly which is in Tier 1.
Earlier on Sunday, Boris Johnson warned of possible tougher restrictions ahead for the country, saying: “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that may be tougher. I’m fully reconciled to that. I think the whole country is fully reconciled to that.”
All of Wales is at the highest alert level 4, while most of Scotland is in level 4 of its five-tier system of restrictions.
In Northern Ireland, a new six-week lockdown began on 26 December.
COVID-19 cases across the UK are at record levels and increasing as a new, more transmissible variant spreads, affecting more children than previously.
Most primary schools in England are scheduled to open on Monday, followed by a staggered start for secondary schools a week later, with GCSE and A-level pupils set to return first.
Some primaries in areas where the new variant is more prevalent will not open on Monday. They are in London and parts of the South East, including 11 areas of Essex, nine areas of Kent, four areas of Hertfordshire, two areas of East Sussex and Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
But the National Education Union (NEU) has said all schools should stay closed for two weeks to “break the chain” of transmission and prevent the NHS becoming “overwhelmed”.
Sir Keir said: “Everybody wants children back in school. There is nobody that would argue with that. Of course that’s what we all want.
“It’s inevitable more schools will close.
“I don’t want to call for the closure of schools tomorrow morning and add to the chaos.
“But we do need to recognise that it is inevitable that more schools will close, and we need a plan in place to deal with it.”
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