Government says ‘further action’ may be needed to curb spread of coronavirus

The rate at which coronavirus is spreading has increased, adding to pressure on ministers to impose Tier 4 lockdowns on more parts of England.

The Cabinet’s Covid operations committee met on Wednesday to consider the latest data on the spread of the virus.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged “it may be necessary to take further action” to curb rising case numbers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to deliver an update on the latest developments in a Downing Street press conference.

The latest estimate of the R value, the average number of people someone with coronavirus infects, has increased to 1.1 to 1.3, up from 1.1 to 1.2 a week ago.

The number of new infections is growing by between 1% and 6% every day, up from 1% to 4% last week.

The current tier levels in England are due to be reviewed on December 30 but that could be accelerated due to fears about the spread of the new variant coronavirus, which appears to be transmitted more readily than previous strains.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “We keep this under review, we are constantly hearing from our scientific advisers about what we should do.”

The new variant is “very concerning” and is “prevalent probably in most regions of the country”, he acknowledged.

Following the meeting of the Covid operations committee a health official said: “Ministers have met today to assess what further action may be needed to address the rise in cases driven by the new variant.

“The Health Secretary will provide an update at a Downing Street press conference at 3pm.”

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on Christmas Day could lead to increased cases and, ultimately, deaths.

Mr Jenrick said if the plans needed to change due to the new variant “we won’t hesitate to do so”.

But later he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there will not be changes to the Christmas arrangements.

“We are not going to change people’s plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas,” he said, but “the strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe”.

Genomic researchers have found that the new variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.