MORE of England will be plunged into the toughest Tier 4 lockdown as soon as Boxing Day, The Sun has learnt.
Ministers and medics met on Tuesday night after the new mutant Covid strain was detected in the parts of the South West, Midlands and the North – areas all currently in Tier 2 or 3.
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An announcement on which areas face the clampdown could come as soon as tomorrow – with the measures to kick immediately after Christmas.
The Tier review was due to be reviewed on December 30, but fears the mutant strain is now “everywhere” meant it was brought forward.
The Sun understands a "Gold Command" meeting of public health chiefs and ministers was meeting on Tuesday evening to sign off expanding the hardest lockdown measures beyond London and the South East.
Health sources said on Tuesday it would not affect all of England "but there are many areas that need tougher measures and are seeing dramatic cases numbers."
Boris Johnson has battled to save his “festive bubbles” plan to allow families and friends to mix on Christmas Day itself, but medics have warned cases will soar because of it and tougher measures will be needed.
On Tuesday the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallence warned “I think it’s likely that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.”
And a government source said last night “things are moving very quickly."
The latest clampdown came on a dark day of soaring covid cases and deaths.
Bug cases in the UK again saw their biggest ever daily rise after 36,804 new positive tests and 691 deaths.
That daily death toll is the second-highest figure since May and only five short of the 696 deaths posted on November 25, shortly after the second national lockdown was announced.
The figures have increased by 37 per cent since last Tuesday’s figure of 506 fatalities.
And positive tests have also nearly trebled since a fortnight ago, when 12,282 cases were recorded on December 8.
Meanwhile the total number of Covid patients in hospital climbed to 18,080 – the highest level since April 22.
The hospitalisation figure peaked during the first wave at 21,683 on April 12.
With the new mutant strain now feared to be present in every region of the UK, health bosses and government ministers are urging people living in Tier 4 areas not to travel to other parts of the country.
And the timing of the next planned review has also sparked fears of a “New Year’s Eve blowout”, according to Health sources.
Tier decisions are normally implemented 48 hours later after the review, but there is concern New Years parties may be harder to police on the eve of another major lockdown.
A source said: “if you announce on the 30th that everyone is going into lockdown in two days' time then its obvious people will go over the top.”
While plans for Christmas mixing in a limited manner are to go ahead, there will be a tough line on celebrating the new year.
Police have been told to strictly enforce Tier rules that night amid concerns large parties will spread the virus.
It comes after a Sage scientist warned the UK was facing catastrophe amid the chaos of the new strain.
Sir Patrick Vallance said last night the new Covid strain was spreading at terrifying speed and Sage scientist Professor West, a psychologist at University College London, called for intensified efforts to stop the virus in its tracks.
Professor West said an "economic human and social disaster" would follow unless the Government built up contact tracing systems similar to ones in East Asia.
He told the Guardian: "We need to reset our strategy and move rapidly to a zero Covid strategy of the kind that many have been proposing.
"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."
And UCL professor of infectious diseases, Andrew Hayward has pushed for a third national lockdown.
I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country, and I think its likely therefore that measures are going to need to be increased in some places, not reduced.
He said: "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."
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, reports the Daily Mail.
The Prime Minister, while denying suggestions a third national lockdown was imminent, acknowledged at Monday's Downing Street press conference, significant restrictions were likely to remain in place for months, but insisted it would be a "very different world'" by Easter.
Sir Patrick also warned of the new mutant strain ripping across the nation: "It's more transmissible, we've absolutely got to make sure we've got the right level of restrictions in place."
"I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country, and I think its likely therefore that measures are going to need to be increased in some places, not reduced."
STAY AT HOME
Already a third of the country are in Tier 4 – the new highest level of restrictions like lockdown.
At the weekend Boris Johnson was forced to tell people living within those areas to cancel their Christmas plans and stay at home once again.
And Brits across the country have been given "stay local" orders for their smaller Christmas celebrations, to stop the virus spreading.
Christmas bubbles were almost entirely scrapped with those living in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 only able to meet loved ones for one day.
In a grave warning, Sir Patrick added: "I think it is a case that this will spread more."
He said it was already "everywhere" after other health experts confirmed it was now in every region of the country.
And Home Secretary Priti Patel warned this morning ministers would take "all necessary steps" to contain the mutation – and would not rule out a fresh national lockdown.
When asked about whether a nationwide lockdown was inevitable, Ms Patel said: "I think it's important to remember, as we've seen this virus spread, grow and evolve, the Government, working with our scientific advisers, will take all the necessary steps to contain this."
Speaking to Sky News, she said: "This is a stronger strain of the virus, it's more transmittable. It's a bouncy virus, so obviously people can catch it in a much easier way.
Cases in London have doubled in the last week alone.
And there are now eight places across the UK – from Medway to Boston – which have recorded more than 1000 cases per 100,000.
Health Officials yesterday warned that anyone who has travelled to Manchester from any Tier 4 area or Wales should isolate for ten days – even if they don't have Covid symptoms.
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