Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for Boris Johnson to shut England schools and borders “right away”, effectively demanding a third national lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Hunt said the National Health Service faced “off-the-scale” pressures that far exceeded previous winter crises and new measures were needed to bring the spiralling infection rate down.
Mr Johnson said there was “no question” tougher measures were on the way but declined to detail what new restrictions could be imposed.
His comments came as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a fresh stay at home order for mainland Scotland.
On Sunday, 54,990 positive tests and 454 deaths were recorded in the UK. Sunday was the sixth day in a row the UK recorded more than 50,000 new daily cases.
Scotland’s new lockdown will be imposed from midnight to contain the faster-spreading variant of the virus.
New laws will require people to stay at home and work from home where possible for the rest of the month.
Outdoor gatherings are also to be cut back, with people only allowed to meet one person from one other household.
Ms Sturgeon said the new variant accounted for nearly half of new cases in Scotland, and is 70 per cent more transmissible.
“As a result of this new variant, (the virus) has just learned to run much faster, and has most definitely picked up pace in the past couple of weeks,” she told the Scottish Parliament.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation that we face now than I have been at any time since March.”
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt said England “cannot afford to wait” to beef up its regional tier system to prevent hospitals from “falling over”.
The closure of schools and borders and a total ban on household mixing are among the new measures he is proposing.
“To those arguing winter is always like this in the NHS: you are wrong. I faced four serious winter crises as Health Sec and the situation now is off-the-scale worse than any of those,” he tweeted.
The Tory MP added: “I know all these things will be under consideration with decisions potentially imminent. My point is in the face of exponential growth even waiting an extra day causes many avoidable deaths so these plans must now be urgently accelerated.”
Asked what further restrictions would be put in place, Mr Johnson said: “What we have been waiting for is to see the impact of the tier four measures on the virus and it is a bit unclear, still, at the moment.
“But if you look at the numbers, there is no question that we are going to have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course.”