BORIS Johnson will decide if all of England will be plunged back into a strict national lockdown that could last for months at crunch talks today.
The PM – who is currently facing calls for another full-scale shutdown from Labour – has already admitted the current tier system will get even tougher.
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And in hours he’ll 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.
Cabinet sources say they expect the Government’s ‘Covid-O’ committee, which makes decisions on restrictions, will meet to decide on the next steps to take, the Daily Mail reports.
Mr Johnson is expected to make an assessment of the latest infection numbers by Wednesday that will include the first signs of the effect of easing social distancing over Christmas.
Discussions have already begun on the return of shielding, and a further announcement on school closures is expected this week, the Telegraph reports.
He said we need to be “realistic” about the pace of which the new variant is spreading across the country, but did not reveal any imminent new measures.
Today, Sir Keir Starmer said the virus is now “clearly out of control” and urged Mr Johnson to announce a new lockdown tomorrow.
Asked if he was calling for a full shutdown across England, he told Sky News: “Nationwide lockdown.
“The Prime Minister is hinting that that’s going to happen but he’s delaying again and we can’t afford that again.”
He said the virus is “clearly out of control”.
“The Prime Minister is hinting that there are tougher national restrictions to come in two or three weeks. That delay has been the source of so many problems,” he said.
“It is inevitable more schools are going to close, but the more important thing in a way is the national restrictions that need to come in in the next 24 hours.”
Elsewhere, the Doctors’ Association UK – a professional association for UK medics – has issued a statement calling a full ‘Tier 5’ lockdown with the extended closure of schools.
In an open letter to the PM, campaign leaders said: “We believe that a further period of even tighter restrictions is essential to avert a national disaster, and call now for the implementation of a full national lockdown.”
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.
And Mr Johnson appeared to suggest tight measures are imminent during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show today.
During the interview, he refused to rule out curfews, a return to a single hour of exercise a day and a ban on household mixing, as well as a total national lockdown.
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.”
And he said he was “entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down”.
Mr Johnson told Marr that while things will look brighter by the spring, tough days are on the way.
“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.”
He said officials are keeping things “under constant review” – and asked whether Brits could be restricted to an hour’s exercise a day, replied: “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.”
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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Sir Keir Starmer demands England is plunged into full national lockdown
The PM has today refused to rule out the possibility that GCSE and A-Level exams will be cancelled this year.
Asked about the tests, he said: “We’ve got to be realistic about the pace of which this new variant has spread.
“We’ve got to be realistic about the impact that it’s having on our NHS and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.”
This content was originally published here.