England should go into full national lockdown immediately, amid rising coronavirus cases and a new highly contagious variant of the virus, scientists have claimed.
The independent committee of experts said a third national lockdown for England was “vitally necessary”, as they warned a new, more infectious variant of the virus had tipped the country into a “new, even more serious pandemic”.
Explaining their call for tougher action, Independent Sage said there were more people in English hospitals with coronavirus than at any other point this year.
More than 20,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals in England on Monday and Tuesday – up from an April peak of 18,974.
The group said there had been more than 3,000 deaths in the past week alone, many of whom would have been infected at the start of December. They warned this figure would “keep increasing for several weeks yet” amid rising cases and hospital admissions.
“Deaths from the second wave will probably exceed those in the first wave at some point in January," the group said.
Independent Sage said cases in current tier 4 areas had quadrupled since lockdown and “show no sign of slowing down”.
As well as calling for a new national lockdown for England, the experts said they did not think all students and staff should be in schools for at least another month, amid pressure on the government to rethink plans for some children to start going back next week.
A new plan for schools reopening is expected to be confirmed on Wednesday, which would push back the start date for many children by a week, with all pupils back in the classroom by 18 January.
Indy Sage have also called for clear strategy to mark end point of new lockdown, and an explicit strategy for vaccine rollout, claiming current rates of vaccination are not enough to ensure priority groups are covered by next Easter.
Sir David King, an ex-government chief scientific adviser who chairs the committee said: “The UK is now at the most precarious stage of the pandemic and urgent action is needed.”
He added: “Any delay will probably cause tens of thousands more deaths.”
Committee member Christina Pagel said: “Action is needed now to avoid the collapse of the NHS in a few weeks."
A government spokesperson said: “As soon as clear, reliable evidence of the threat posed by the new variant became available, we took swift and decisive action to protect the public and contain the spread of the virus.
“Our NHS is facing a huge challenge and we will continue to support it in every possible way. We have invested £52bn this year and £20bn next year to help the health service fight coronavirus, including £3bn to boost NHS capacity during this difficult winter.
“We have also secured 357 million doses of potential vaccines, with the Pfizer vaccine already being delivered to reduce the pressure on our frontline health and care workers as more people at greatest risk receive protection."
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