Scientists believe whole of England will have to be put into lockdown as new Covid variant spreads

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

England is facing another lockdown as scientists call for tighter measures to be implemented nationwide in line with the other three nations of the UK.

The spread of the new variant of Covid-19, which is up to 70% more infectious than the normal strain, has sparked alarm across the world.

The government has put London and much of the South East under tough Tier 4 restrictions where the new variant is the most prevalent, but they have conceded it has spread across the country already.

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Epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Sage scientific advisory panel, suggested tougher lockdown restrictions would be needed to tackle the new variant coronavirus.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Government have actually acted pretty fast.

“It depends now on how effective these measures are and how widespread the virus is.

“Unfortunately, it does look like the virus is probably across the country already and so I do think that we might unfortunately have to impose tougher restrictions across the country.”

People have been queuing to buy food from supermarkets as the new variant led to France closing its borders with the UK. Credit: PA

Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the Guardian the country was entering a "critical stage of the pandemic."

When asked his opinion on if another lockdown was necessary he said: "Personally, I think it’s clearer to give a consistent national message because although the levels of risk are different in different parts of the country, they’re still there and they’re still substantial.

The warnings come a day after the government's chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance warned on Monday: "It's likely that measures will need to be increased in some places in due course and not reduced."He added: “The doubling time of this infection with a new variant is quite fast, it is more transmissible, it does require more action in order to keep it down and that’s why Tier 4 is important."

The South East of England - the most densely populated area of the country - is currently in Tier 4 which is close to the full lockdown the nation went through in November.

Other nations within the UK had already announced another lockdown before the government went public about the new variant spreading in south eastern England.

Wales entered its third lockdown on Saturday after fears of the new variant forced the government to bring forward their planned tightening of the rules.

Northern Ireland will be entering a four-week lockdown on December 26 and has begun advising against all but essential travel between the country and the rest of the UK.

Scotland will put its entire country on Tier 4, the highest tier of its five-tier system on December 26, with all none essential shops, pubs and restaurants closed.

The sudden imposition of Tier 4 in London meant many shops that had prepared for Christmas will now be stuck with extra stock. Credit: PA

This means that from Boxing Day the only areas in the UK that will not be in lockdown will be the areas in England not currently subject to Tier 4.

Asked if Tier 4 measures would be increased, Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News: “If the virus continues to spread then we will take stronger measures, because at the end of the day our objective is to save lives and to keep people safe."

She said she wasn't going to pre-empt any change in measures before the review on of tiers in England on December 30.

The UK has recorded more than 33,000 new cases of coronavirus in the past two days, breaking new records and soaring past the peak seen in November before the one-month lockdown in England led to a reduction in numbers.