Richard Spurr 4am - 7am
Boris Johnson to address the nation amid reports of 'month-long' lockdown
31 October 2020, 18:30
Boris Johnson is considering imposing stringent new national lockdown restrictions within days after scientists warned that half a million people were being infected with coronavirus each week.
The Prime Minister is expected to announce the measures for England - which could be introduced on Wednesday and last until December 1.
He is due to address the nation at 6:45pm today after a Cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon.
Everything except essential shops and education settings could be closed under the new measures but no final decisions are believed to have been made. Tougher regional measures are also being considered.
Downing Street reportedly launched a leak inquiry after details from the Cabinet meeting were shared with journalists.
A source told The Times that the measures are still under discussion and no final decision has yet been made, but the Prime Minister has been told this is the "only way" to save Christmas.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly resisted calls for there to be a national lockdown, and the Government's top scientific advisors now believe it is "too late" for a two-week national circuit-breaker to have enough of an effect.
Instead, they believe a longer national lockdown is needed to drive the reproduction number, or R value, of the virus below one.
Northern Ireland and Wales are already in partial nationwide lockdowns, brought in by the devolved governments to try and gain control over the virus which is once again filling hospital beds.
Scientists earlier said they fear deaths from Covid-19 will exceed "reasonable worst case planning levels" in the coming weeks, with more than 85,000 people expected to lose their lives to the virus by April.
There are also fears that hospital beds are beginning to run out in England, and a full lockdown is the only way to avoid the NHS being fully overwhelmed.
It is understood the Prime Minister has discussed the move with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is concerned another lockdown could leave the nation's finances in tatters.
But new data published on Friday suggested around 570,000 people per week are becoming infected with Covid-19 across England, prompting fresh calls from scientists for tougher restrictions.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey found cases "continued to rise steeply" in the week ending October 23, with an estimated 568,100 people in households becoming infected.
All parts of England are on course to eventually end up in Tier 3 restrictions, they believe, while deaths could potentially hit 500 per day within weeks.
Government scientists are also confident that more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus are now occurring every day in England.
It comes as official documents released by the Government show that a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting on October 8 said the number of infections and hospital admissions is "exceeding the reasonable worst case scenario (RWCS) planning levels at this time".
The document, which came just days before three tier restrictions were announced, said the number of deaths was also "highly likely to exceed reasonable worst case planning levels" within the next two weeks.
Sage documents leaked to The Spectator this week showed an RWCS of 85,000 Covid-19 deaths until the end of March, with more than 500 deaths a day for 90 days at the peak.
The Sage document of October 8 said a continued rise in hospital admissions means that "if there are no decisive interventions, continued growth would have the potential to overwhelm the NHS, including the continued delivery of non-Covid treatments".
A separate Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) consensus statement dated October 14 said "combined estimates from six SPI-M-O models suggest there are between 43,000 and 74,000 new infections per day in England".
In September, the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that without action, the UK could see 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October and more than 200 daily deaths.
Over the last week, deaths have averaged 230 a day while the latest ONS data suggests more than 50,000 cases a day.
On Friday, the Government said a further 274 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, while a further 24,405 lab-confirmed cases were recorded in the UK.
The new ONS figures, based on 609,777 swab tests taken whether people have symptoms or not, show the highest rates are in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
Rates also remain high in the North East, but the ONS said these have now levelled off and "there is now a larger gap with the other two northern regions".