The NHS will be overwhelmed within weeks without a national lockdown in England, Boris Johnson has warned, as he ordered the country to stay at home in a bid to reverse the spread of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister said that without action, deaths would reach “several thousand a day”, with a “peak of mortality” worse than the country saw during the lockdown in April.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential retail across the nation will close from Thursday, and people will be told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, but schools, colleges and nurseries will remain open.
People will be allowed outside to exercise and socialise in public spaces outside with their household or one other person, but not indoors or in private gardens, and will be able to travel to work if they cannot work from home.
Furlough payments at 80% will be extended for the duration of the restrictions as high streets once again shut up shop.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s original furlough scheme paid 80 per cent of wages up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, but was gradually wound down over the summer and was due to end today. The job retention scheme supported 9.6m jobs at a total cost of £47bn.
MPs will vote on the new measures before they are introduced at 0001 on Thursday, and when they lapse on December 2, the current tier system will be reintroduced.
The hope is that Covid-19 cases will drop low enough to keep on top of outbreaks at a regional level.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said “no responsible Prime Minister can ignore” the rising rates of Covid-19 infections as he announced the lockdown.
He said “we need to be humble in the face of nature”, adding that the virus was spreading even faster than the worst case scenario envisaged by scientists.
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Johnson for several weeks, although he is understood to have been persuaded by new data on NHS capacity and figures released on Friday from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggesting 580,000 people a week are now contracting the virus.
Rates of coronavirus have been increasing in all parts of England and among all age groups and Government scientific advisers have said only a national lockdown could get on top of the epidemic.
Mr Johnson was joined by England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Prof Whitty said inpatient beds was going up “on an exponential curve” and several hospitals already have more people in beds than at the peak earlier in the year.
Sir Patrick said what was clear from modelling in terms of deaths over the winter “there is potential for this to be twice as bad or more compared to the first wave.”
In terms of hospital admissions across England, over the next six weeks into early December, they would exceed the number of hospitalisations seen during the peak of the first wave, he said.
He added that it was a “very grim picture” of what would happen without further action.