BORIS Johnson will reveal a fresh lockdown tonight with an address to the nation – after he warned there was "no question" of tougher measures coming "in due course".
The Prime Minister will make televised address tonight at 8pm to update the country on the next steps to tackle coronavirus – where he is expected to announce a raft of new measures.
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A No10 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.
"He will set those out this evening."
Parliament will also be recalled today to sit on Wednesday – meaning there will likely be a vote on the measures, and they are expected to be national rather than regional.
However, the new measures could be imposed as early as tonight with MPs given a retrospective say.
The news came after Health Secretary said nothing – including a national lockdown – was off the table as the Government mull new measures to try and crack down on the case numbers – which have reached record highs in the past week.
The PM – who is currently facing calls for another full-scale shutdown from Labour – said today tougher measures will be announced soon to control the coronavirus.
Speaking during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London to meet some of the first people to receive the Oxford vaccine on Monday Mr Johnson said there were "tough tough" weeks to come.
In his first national interview wearing a mask, he added: "If you look at the numbers there's no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course."
He admitted that people have become "impatient" and "frustrated" with the rules – but he begged them to obey them until the vaccine can be rolled out further.
The PM admitted he was waiting until the impact of the Tier 4 rules could be seen, which was "a bit unclear at the moment" – and will be keen to see the impact of Christmas Day mixing rules being relaxed.
And he suggested that secondary schools might have to stay closed in order to keep primaries open, but stressed that the risk to teachers was no greater than other lines of work.
Boris will meet officials to decide whether the mutant strain of coronavirus surging through the country will mean a return to a March-style lockdown, with schools shut, non-essential shops shuttered and most travel banned.
Additional restrictions – dubbed Tier 5 – are also being considered, but ministers say there are no current plans for an additional official Tier.
Government sources have played down the prospect of a national curfew or restrictions on exercising outside, but have warned the rules may last for months to come.
The Government's Covid-O committee, which makes decisions on restrictions, will meet in the coming days, and Mr Hancock has stressed the data is being looked at daily.
And officials are worried too about another new strain of the virus which has come from South Africa – which spreads even faster than that.
Discussions have already begun on the return of shielding, and a further announcement on school closures is expected this week, the Telegraph claimed.
It came as:
- An 82-year-old man became the first person to get the Oxford AstraZeneca jab this morning as the new vaccine was rolled out to hospitals
- Boris Johnson has told primary kids to return to schools today if they are open – but thousands of places have stayed shut in Tier 4 areas across the country
- Education unions said staff were at "serious risk" of infection by returning to schools and called on the Prime Minister to meet to discuss safety
- Hospitals across the country are filling up with more Covid patients – with now a quarter more people needing treatment there than in the first wave
- Covid deaths passed 75,000 as 454 more people die in highest Sunday rise since May & 54,990 new infections recorded
- CMO Chris Whitty was spotted at No10 today for talks with senior officials
The PM said this morning:"We will be producing everything we think is necessary to keep people from spreading the virus.
"We already have a lot of the country in Tier 4.
"We have been waiting to see the impact of the tier 4 restrictions on the virus.
"If you look at the numbers, there's no question we are going to have to take tougher measures… in due course."
Mr Hancock was asked today: "In terms of the national lockdown called for, that isn't within the Government thinking right now, is it?"
Mr Hancock replied: "Well we don't rule anything out.
"We have shown repeatedly we will look at the public health advice and will take [it] in terms of what is needed to control the spread of the disease."
He later added: "We are prepared to take the sort of action (lockdown) if that is what's necessary…
"Yes the Government can bring in more restrictions and we don't shy away from doing that if it's needed to save lives.
"But it's also on everyone to act as if you have the virus.
"We have shown that we can move incredibly quickly – within 24 hours if that's necessary. We keep these things under review all the time.
"We look at the data on a daily basis – we can see there are significant rises."
On how long the new tiers might last for, he said the measures were "how we collectively as a society keep this under control for the next couple of months… until the vaccines can make us safe".
TIER 3 ISN'T ENOUGH
Some Tier 3 areas are seeing a sharp rise in cases too, he warned, in a hint they will be bumped up to Tier 4 in the coming days.
Already three quarters of England are living in Tier 4.
He stressed: "This new variant is so much more contagious – you only need to come into combat with a tiny amount of it to catch the disease.
"And it means that whereas the old Tier 3 was able to contain the old variant, that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country."
If Tier 3 is no longer enough to control the virus, it's likely all of England will have to be placed in Tier 4.
But Mr Hancock ruled out another formal Tier, saying: "We haven’t got any proposals for a Tier 5".
And he talked down restrictions on outdoor exercising too, promising that "we know it’s much, much less likely to spread when you are outdoors."
Ex-Health Sec Jeremy Hunt said today the country is facing a "national emergency" over the new variant of coronavirus.
He added: "I think we have got to recognise we have a very, very virulent new strain and it is a national emergency and we are going to need to go a lot further and a lot faster and the sooner we take these tough measures the better," he said.
And it "may well be the case" that a third lockdown is needed, he said.
OUT OF CONTROL
The PM yesterday warned Brits they'll face tougher rules in the coming weeks and refused to rule out 'Tier 5' restrictions or a full national shutdown.
"It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country," he said.
"I'm fully, fully reconciled to that – and I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that because, until the vaccine really comes on stream in a massive way, we're fighting this virus with the same set of tools."
Nicola Sturgeon is due to speak to the nation at 2pm today – where she is also set to announce new restrictions.
SHEILD THE VULNERABLE
Sources say discussions were under way about the return of shielding, which could also be extended to people in specific age groups, such as the over-70s.
Last month the “clinically extremely vulnerable” were told they should stay at home if they live in Tier 4 areas.
SOUTH AFRICA STRAIN
Meanwhile, experts have said the new South Africa strain could be worse still than the new variant spreading across England and causing cases to soar.
Mr Hancock added: "I am incredibly worried about the South African variant – that's why we took action we did to restrict all flights from South Africa.
"This is a very, very significant problem.
"It is even more of a problem than the UK variant."
Sir John Bell said a "big question mark" remains over whether the super-infectious new variant can be prevented with the vaccines being rolled out across the world.
The Oxford University scientist also said the South Africa strain is "more worrying" than a mutant strain discovered in the southeast of England because it is even more infectious.
He told Times Radio: "The mutations associated with the South African form are really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein."
But he added: "I think it's unlikely that these mutations will turn off the effects of vaccines entirely – I think they'll still have a residual effect.
"It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm. It's going to be fine"
It comes as millions of kids returned to classrooms today – but many stayed home as their schools were ordered to close, or local leaders took matters into their own hands.
Boris has told secondary schools to stay shut until January 18, and primaries in a range of Tier 4 hotspots to join them too.
The PM insisted kids who can go into school should continue to do so, sparking outrage among teachers and unions who are worried about the conditions for staff.
But in a screeching u-turn last night, many schools and councils advised parents to keep kids at home.
The PM suggested today that secondaries may have to stay shut and teach kids from home for weeks to come – refusing to deny such claims.
But that he wanted to try and keep primary schools open if he possibly could.
He said this morning: "We have had to act primaries to postpone their return – I don't want to do that but its necessary.
"We will keep all measures under review – it looks as thought secondary schools play more of a role in the spread of the epidemic than primaries, we will have to look at what we do with them later in the months.
"I want to stress the efforts we are making to try and keep primary schools open."
Council leaders in Wolverhampton, Norfolk, Slough, Manchester, County Durham, Lancashire, Birmingham and Gateshead said they would support the decision of head teachers who do not think it is safe for the school to open.
And parents up and down the country were sent last minute letters advising them of closures last night.
Mr Hancock stressed this morning schools were safe and there was no additional risk to teachers from catching the bug at school than from elsewhere.
He added:"It is also clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population.
"So there is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people's long-term health."
But this morning a joint statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite blasted the Government's handling of the crisis as "chaotic".
They said bringing all pupils back while the infection rate was so high would "fuel the pandemic" and put staff at risk.
And they stressed: "All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
"Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the Prime Minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils to have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed."
Some unions have demanded a return to remote learning for all pupils.
The PM said yesterday: "There are obviously a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider.
"I'm not going to speculate now about what they would be.
"Clearly, school closures – which we had to do in March – is one of those things. It's not something we necessarily want to do."
Dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, has become the first person to be vaccinated with the new Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after being given the jab at Oxford University Hospital, NHS England said today.
Mr Pinker, who describes himself as Oxford born and bred, said this morning: "I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford.
"The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year."
The Health Secretary hailed the good news this morning, and said NHS England would dish out as many as were being produced.
And he vowed that red tape would be slashed to allow more people to sign up to administer the jab, too.
He told BBC Breakfast: "We're going to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed there, and I've been working with the NHS on that.
"For instance, there's one of the training programmes about needing to tackle terrorism. I don't think that's necessary, we're going to stop that."
Academics’ grave warning over mutated virus
Experts have warned the super-infectious new coronavirus strain was spreading quickly among children DURING November lockdown
Academics from Imperial College London say the mutated super-infectious strain of Covid was spreading among children during the lockdown in November.
And they've warned that only closing schools can keep it contained.
Their study confirms that the new variant is more infectious, and the shutdown did little to contain it.
It was most prevalent among the 10-19 age group, and may be nearly 50 percent more transmissible, experts say.
The study is yet to be peer-reviewed, but academics claim the R number for the mutation is between 0.4 and 0.7 points higher.
Today, Sage member Professor Sir Mark Walport said it was "pretty clear" tougher restrictions were needed to control the strain.
The former chief scientific adviser told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It's the Tier 4 restrictions, it's obeying them.
"It is thinking about breaking essentially every possible route of transmission we possibly can.
"Those are the things that are absolutely necessary and it is pretty clear we're going to need more."
He said the mutation is "transmitted more readily in younger age groups", adding: "It is going to be very difficult to keep it under control without much tighter social restrictions."
It comes amid chaos in education – hours before children are due to return to class.
Primaries in areas designated as 'lower risk' will defy Government directives to stay open.
Councils in Slough, Norfolk, Greater Manchester and Southampton are among the authorities supporting any primary school's decision to close.
It comes after Brighton and Hove City Council advised primary schools not to open, going against the Department for Education directives.
And today Cumbria's local director of public health and Kent's council leader wrote to the Government, begging to be allowed to keep their primary schools closed.
Essex County Council released a statement this afternoon announcing North Essex Primary Schools would be remote learning only, while a number of schools in Derbyshire, Merseyside and Nottinghamshire decided not to open over Covid fears.
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for headteachers and councils to be allowed to keep schools shut if they think it’s necessary.
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