He told regional leaders that failing to act now would be “unforgivable”, adding: “We must act to save lives. These figures are flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet – and we must act now.” Mr Johnson also unveiled a new three-tier Local Covid Alert System yesterday. But his Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is “not confident” pub closures and other restrictions under the highest level alert will be enough to “get on top” of the second wave.
Mr Johnson warned regional leaders who are resisting new restrictions in their areas that he could impose them regardless of their objections.
He appealed to politicians in coronavirus hotspots to develop a package of measures with the Government.
The PM said: “I believe not to act would be “unforgivable”, so I hope that rapid progress can be made in the coming days. If we can’t get agreement then clearly it is the duty of national Government to take the necessary action to protect the public and public health, and we will.”
Mr Johnson also hinted at a possible “circuit breaker” to short a lockdown to coincide with the school half-term holidays.
Boris Johnson holds a Covid-19 Press Conference
He added: “We don’t want to go down that extreme route right now.”
But he did not rule out the measure in the longer term.
Under the new system, areas will be designated at medium, high or very high risk of the coronavirus spreading.
Setting out the new regime at a Downing Street news conference yesterday, he said: “We are entering a new and crucial phase of our fight against coronavirus because the number of cases has gone up four times in four weeks and it is once again spreading among the elderly and vulnerable.
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“There are already more Covid patients in UK hospitals today than there were on March 23 when the whole country went into lockdown and deaths, alas, are also rising once again.
“No one, least of all me, wants to impose these kinds of erosions on our personal liberty, but I am as convinced as I have ever been that the British people have the resolve to beat this virus and that, together, we will do just that.”
Britons have to stick to the rules to give the country any chance of a relatively normal Christmas, the PM said.
He added: “We’ll do our absolute best to try to make sure we can get life back to as close to normal as possible for Christmas.
“But that is going to depend, I’m afraid, on our success in getting this virus down and our ability as a country to follow through on the package of measures.”
Also speaking at the news conference,
Prof Whitty said the new system included “a lot of flexibility” for local authorities to go far further than closing pubs and banning household mixing.
He said the basic Government proposals for such regions were “not sufficient” to tackle the worst rates of infection.
Speaking in the Commons earlier yesterday, Mr Johnson warned the coming weeks will test the “mettle” of the country.
He said: “With all the lessons we have learned in the past few months we are becoming better and better at fighting this virus.
“I must warn the House again that the weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country. I have no doubt at all that together we will succeed. This is not how we want to live our lives but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human and indeed economic cost of an uncontained epidemic.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Mr Johnson pledged an extra £1billion of Government support to help councils in high and very high risk areas cope with the challenges.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said a “comprehensive plan” will protect jobs and businesses over the winter, ensuring “no gap in support”.
Whitehall documents released yesterday showed the Government’s scientific advisers called for a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown in England three weeks ago.
Minutes from a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies held on September 21 said the move “should be considered for immediate introduction”.