British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Monday pondering a second national lockdown as an accelerating coronavirus outbreak threatened to destroy any shoots of economic recovery and send millions back into isolation.
The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe – and the fifth largest in the world – while it is borrowing record amounts in an attempt to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.
But new COVID-19 cases are rising by at least 6,000 per day in Britain, according to week-old data, hospital admissions are doubling every eight days, and the testing system is buckling.
“The trend in the UK is heading in the wrong direction and we are at a critical point in the pandemic,” Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, will say at a briefing at 1000 GMT on Monday.
Johnson is due to speak on Tuesday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions would be different to last time: the government wants to crack down on socialising but schools and many workplaces will stay open.
“If we do have to take action, it will be different to last time and we’ve learnt a huge amount about how to tackle the virus,” he told ITV.
“Schools aren’t where a lot of the transmission happens, it’s more about people socialising,” he said.
Asked about Christmas and if people would be able to hug their relatives, he said he wanted it to be as normal as possible.
“If this runs out of control now, we’ll have to take heavier measures in the future,” Hancock said.
The official UK death toll stands at 41,777 people.