BORIS JOHNSON has insisted he had to impose a third national lockdown because soaring infection rates mean one in 50 people now have Covid-19 — including one in 30 Londoners.
As official data confirmed 1.1million of us now have the virus, the prime minister (pictured above) revealed more than 60,000 had tested positive on a single day for the first time, fuelled by a highly infectious variant strain. Yesterday’s 830 deaths mean Britain is set to overtake Italy as Europe’s worst-hit nation.
And although 1.3million people have now been vaccinated, he warned lockdown could last months if people ignored strict rules. ‘When everybody looks at the position, people understand overwhelmingly that we have no choice,’ Mr Johnson told a Downing Street briefing.
‘There will still be long weeks ahead in which we must persevere with these restrictions.’
The PM was backed by chief medical officer Chris Whitty who said infection rates had ‘really taken off’ and warned even full lockdown might not control them.
‘The key is all of us buying into this really seriously,’ he said. ‘If people stick to those rules really strongly and we vaccinate at the planned rate, our hope is lockdown will be enough.’
But he said a ‘few’ measures would still be needed next winter, adding: ‘We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this just disappears with spring. This is not going to go away.’
Data from the Office of National Statistics showed 1.1million — two per cent of people in England — had the virus between December 27 and January 2.
And a record 27,000 Covid patients were in England’s hospitals on Monday — 40 per cent above last spring’s peak.
London now tops the national infection table but the East Midlands and North West have rates of one in 40.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for tighter restrictions including making masks mandatory outdoors in ‘queues, streets and other crowded spaces’.
He added: ‘To limit the risk of new variants spreading, we need more rigorous testing and quarantine rules put in place at our borders and airports.’
Mr Johnson — who yesterday refused to rule out requiring negative test results from passengers arriving in the UK — said nearly a quarter of over-80s had now been vaccinated, and promised daily figures from Monday.
He said everyone over 70 would be offered a dose by February 15 and that nearly 1,000 vaccination centres would be running by the end of this week.
‘We are now using every second of this lockdown to put that invisible shield around the elderly and vulnerable in the form of vaccination,’ he said.
Prof Whitty said the ‘vaccine time-table is realistic but it will not be easy’.
But he ruled out early jabs for teachers in a bid to reopen schools, saying current plans meant ‘we have the maximum impact on the disease because the people that are by far the highest risk of dying will be vaccinated first’.
Last night, Mr Johnson addressed the 1922 committee of Tory backbench MPs after it reportedly received two letters of no-confidence in him.
He is said to have told them he hoped to ease lockdown ‘before the end of the tulip season, before the end of the daffodil season even’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday promised another £4.6billion for business. And education secretary Gavin Williamson will today unveil a ‘package of support’ for school children, as well as announcing plans to replace cancelled GCSE and A-level exams.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded: ‘Why were families given so little time to plan for childcare and for schools closing? And why have businesses and millions of working people not had support they need?’