Boris Johnson is warning that a second wave of coronavirus has arrived in the UK, as scientists reported the “widespread growth” of the virus across the country.
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the R number – representing the number of people an infected person will pass the virus to – has risen to between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning cases could rise very quickly.
“There’s no question, as I’ve said for several weeks now, that we could expect [and] are now seeing a second wave coming in,” Johnson told reporters during a visit to the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre construction site near Oxford on Friday.
“We are seeing it in France, in Spain, across Europe – it has been absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable we were going to see it in this country.”
The Prime Minister insisted that he did not want a second national lockdown, but said it was essential that people followed social distancing guidelines – including the new “rule of six”.
“But as we look at this particular curve and what is happening now, clearly we are going to keep everything under review. I don’t want to get into a second national lockdown at all, it is the last thing anybody wants,” he said.
“I don’t want to go into bigger lockdown measures at all, we want to keep schools open and it is fantastic the schools have gone back in the way they have. We want to keep the economy open as far as we possibly can, we want to keep businesses going.
“The only way we can do that is obviously if people follow the guidance.”
Ministers are thought to be considering a two-week national “circuit break”, an attempt to break the chain of transmission.
Earlier on Friday, Nicola Sturgeon signalled “hard but necessary decisions” will likely have to be made in the coming days to head off surging cases of coronavirus.
The First Minister said the country is at a “critical moment” as 203 new cases were recorded in Scotland overnight, the fourth day in a row of more than 200 cases. Another person with the virus also died.
Speaking at Friday’s Covid-19 briefing, she said she wanted to avoid another national lockdown but that “doing nothing almost certainly isn’t an option”.
Sturgeon said: “We need to act to interrupt that exponential growth.
“No one wants to see another full-scale lockdown – and above all we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education and to the broader wellbeing of children and young people.”
Sturgeon said she asked Johnson earlier on Friday morning to convene an emergency Cobra meeting over the weekend so the four UK nations can discuss their options.