Boris Johnson ordered to act before ‘whole country is on fire’ with new coronavirus strain

Coronavirus: Previous sufferers can catch new strain says expert

The warning comes from Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at UCL, who told Times Radio she believes the whole country could be “on fire” unless areas most affected by the new variant of coronavirus are isolated. She said: “We can’t afford to wait for confirmation because it’s just rising so rapidly.

“And you can see now, you’ve got the Tier 4 areas and if you look at the Tier 2 areas surrounding those Tier 4 areas, cases in those Tier 2 areas have doubled in the last week.

“So it’s seriously out of control there.

“And if we just wait and we let it spread to the north, where things are much more under control, then the whole country is on fire.

“And I just feel like we have to stop it now and protect the north from the south, effectively.”

Tougher measures may be necessary to contain the spread of the mutant coronavirus, a Cabinet minister acknowledged amid speculation that more areas of England are hearing for a Tier 4 lockdown.

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The Cabinet’s Covid operations committee is meeting on Wednesday to consider the latest data on the spread of the virus.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged “it may be necessary to take further action” to curb rising case numbers.

Reports suggested local leaders and health officials met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of Birmingham being moved into a Tier 4 lockdown, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to Tier 3.

Genomic researchers have found that the new variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

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Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the county and could be behind sharp increases in new cases, while Lancashire’s director of public health said there is a “high likelihood” that the new variant is in the county.

The current tier levels in England are due to be reviewed on December 30 but that could be accelerated.

Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “We don’t have a timetable for that. The Government’s Covid operations committee is meeting later today to review further evidence.

“We keep this under review, we are constantly hearing from our scientific advisers about what we should do.”

The new variant is “very concerning” and is “prevalent probably in most regions of the country,” he acknowledged.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to say his party will back any Government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommend.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on Christmas Day could lead to increased cases and, ultimately, deaths.

Although plans have been dramatically scaled back, Mr Jenrick said the Government will not hesitate if they need to go further.

“We’re asking people outside Tier 4 areas to exercise great care – only to come together with a small number of people and only for Christmas Day,” he told Sky.

“If we need to change that in light of the new variant, then we won’t hesitate to do so.”

But later he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there will not be changes to the Christmas arrangements.

“We are not going to change people’s plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas,” he said, but “the strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe”.

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