Boris rejects full lockdown but says cases are ‘flashing like warnings on a jet’

12 October 2020, 22:18 | Updated: 13 October 2020, 07:22

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has rejected a devastating full national lockdown but warned that the number of coronavirus infections is "flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet".

The prime minister warned that England "must act now" in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19, while speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on Monday.

Mr Johnson explained that infections nationally had gone up four times in four weeks and there were now more coronavirus patients in UK hospitals than there were on 23 March, when the country went into lockdown, adding that deaths are rising.

"These figures are flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet and we must act now," he said.

However, the UK leader also stressed that he was taking a "moderate" and "balanced" approach to help save lives while simultaneously trying to protect the economy.

"No one, least of all me, wants to impose these kinds of restrictions, erosions of our personal liberty, but I'm convinced as I've ever been that the British people have the resolve to beat this virus and that together we will do just that," the prime minister added.

Read more: Boris Johnson confirms new three-tier lockdown system

Read more: More patients in hospital with Covid now than at start of lockdown

Boris Johnson has warned that coronavirus case numbers in England are 'flashing like warnings on a jet’
Boris Johnson has warned that coronavirus case numbers in England are 'flashing like warnings on a jet’. Picture: PA

It comes following the PM's statement in the Commons earlier in the day, during which he confirmed there would be a new three-tier lockdown system in a bid to tackle local outbreaks of the virus.

He explained that England will be divided into three different levels on a case-by-case basis.

Tier one will be places where there is a 'medium' level of infection rates and they will follow the current national guidelines; tier two will be in places where there is a 'high' level of infection rates and they will have stricter measures in place, such as no mixing between households; and tier three will be in places where there is a 'very high' level of infection rates and they will follow the strictest of measures, such as pub closures.

Liverpool City Region will be the only place under tier three from Wednesday, meaning pubs and bars across Merseyside will close unless they serve food and alcohol as part of a sit-down meal.

Read more: PM denies lockdown was eased too early in north of England

Read more: Northern NHS Nightingale hospitals to mobilise ahead of second wave

Meanwhile, Professor Chris Whitty said he is "not confident" the strictest lockdown measures announced on Monday will be enough on their own to "get on top" of coronavirus.

When asked about the new restrictions, the chief medical officer replied: "I am very confident that the measures that are currently in place, are helping to slow the virus, and these measures will help to slow it further.

"I am not confident, and nor is anybody confident, that the tier three proposals for the highest rates... if we did the absolute base case, and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it.

"And that is why there's a lot of flexibility in the tier three level for local authorities, guided by the directors of public health, to actually go up that range, so that they can do significantly more than the absolute base because the base will not be sufficient.

"There are quite a lot more additional things that could be done within that with local guidance."

He also warned that those in the "very high" tier could see "significantly" deeper restrictions and that those in areas that are not subject to local lockdown measures should not be lulled into a false sense of security.

"The idea we can do this [adding further restrictions] without causing harm is an illusion," he added.

However, the professor praised people's efforts in ensuring businesses are Covid-secure and in making sure they reduce their social contacts.

"If we had not been doing all the things that everybody is currently doing... the rates that we're seeing in these graphs would be substantially higher," he said.

"So what people are doing now are significantly reducing the rates compared to where they would have been.

"But what we can see is that we need to go further, or these rates will continue inexorably to rise."

Addressing the new measures in a joint statement, metro mayor Steve Rotheram, city mayor Joe Anderson and the leaders of Liverpool City Region's six local authorities said it was made clear by ministers that Merseyside would be placed in the highest tier "regardless of if we engaged with them or not".

The group said they shared the government's "grave concerns" about the pressure on the region's hospitals and had worked with Whitehall to negotiate a package of support for the region.

Mr Johnson said talks were continuing with local leaders in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber about the approach there and the support available if they moved into the third tier.

"I know how difficult this is - they like us, like everyone in this House, are grappling with very real dilemmas. But we cannot let the NHS fall over when lives are at stake."

He said authorities being placed in the "very high" alert level would gain extra support from Whitehall - including the possibility of military assistance to support local services.

There was £1 billion of new support on offer to local authorities across England, the PM added.

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