Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown in England after Christmas.
The prime minister was asked whether England would be forced to follow Northern Ireland in imposing stringent restrictions after the restrictions are eased for the festive period.
He said: “We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that.
“But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
It comes as figures showed that COVID-19 cases are increasing across England and spiking in London.
Data from the Office for National Statistics showed infections across the country leapt by 18% between 6 and 12 December, England’s first full week back in the three-tier system.
Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are predicted to rise dramatically after Christmas, with families allowed to create bubbles from three households for a five-day period despite leading health experts warning it could lead to thousands of avoidable deaths.
Johnson urged the public to avoid spreading coronavirus over Christmas.
He said: “I think people really get this, people do get this, all the evidence I’m seeing, people really understand this is the time to look after, to think about, our elderly relatives, avoid spreading the disease.”
Up to three households will be allowed to form a bubble between 23-27 December, and Johnson has refused to buckle to pressure to make a U-turn on the decision, saying it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas.
Some 68% of the population in England will be living under the tightest Tier 3 restrictions from Saturday – but experts have warned the system is failing to keep infections in check.
John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told Sky News on Friday: “At the moment it doesn’t look like the tier system is holding the epidemic wave back, unfortunately.
“So I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up, we really will.
“It’s a horrible thing to have to say but we are in quite a difficult position.”
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “I don’t really care what the terminology is, all I know is that we need to do something to get ourselves suppressing the community transmission of the virus.
“It seems to me we need to do whatever it takes to get the situation firmly under control so that we can vaccinate people and then move forward.”
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