Eddie Mair 4pm - 7pm
UK records 28,507 coronavirus cases and 489 deaths
18 December 2020, 21:04
The UK has recorded another 28,507 coronavirus cases and 489 deaths as many hospitals struggle to cope with rising admissions.
The Government said that, as of 9am on Friday, the country's total was approaching two million cases with 1,977,167 recorded since March.
It comes as figures published the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) estimate the figure to be between 1.1 and 1.2.
Last week, the R number was between 0.9 and 1.
The increase means the number of new infections is growing by between 1% and 4% every day.
Meanwhile NHS hospitals across the South and East of England have postponed all non-urgent operations while it tackles a surge in the number of Covid-19 patients.
Several hospitals in Kent announced the measure on Friday evening, saying only "urgent treatments, including cancer operations" will go ahead as normal.
An NHS spokeswoman said: "We are working hard to ensure we treat as many patients as possible, while ensuring we provide a safe hospital environment. However, the increase in numbers has meant difficult decisions to prioritise cases of higher urgency.
"Any patients affected by the decision will be contacted, if patients are not contacted they should continue to attend their hospital appointments as normal."
There is mounting pressure on the Government to announce a third national lockdown after Christmas to ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed in January.
Experts advising ministers have suggested a third national lockdown may need to be more stringent than the second.
Professor Neil Ferguson: "The concern I have right now is that ... (in) the East of England, for instance, case numbers were rising during the last lockdown, so there may be a need for additional controls beyond even what were in place then."
Adding to the calls was Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has called on Boris Johnson to set out his plan for averting a new lockdown.
At the party's headquarters in London, Sir Keir told reporters: "Nobody wants a third lockdown. It's hugely damaging on health grounds and also for the economy.
"We can see that the tiered system is not working in the way the Prime Minister promised. More people are going into the higher tiers, so it's not strong enough.
"Whether the Prime Minister rules it out or not is not the central question.
"I think the central question, Prime Minister, is what are you doing now to prevent the chances of a third lockdown?"
Sir Keir Starmer has said that limiting Christmas to mixing only between two households would be a "step in the right direction".
The Labour leader told reporters: "He's got to toughen up over Christmas, he's got to show some leadership.
"Easing the restrictions I think is going to be the next big mistake for the Prime Minister."