Boris Johnson has raised the prospect of a New Year lockdown if Britons ease off in the fight against coronavirus – as his chief medic warned people not to hug elderly relatives at Christmas.
England is due to exit its second national lockdown next Wednesday and the prime minister, speaking at a Downing Street news conference, said his aim now was to avoid “taking our foot off the throat of the beast”.
“If we ease off now we risk losing control of this virus all over again, casting aside our hard-won gains and forcing us back to a New Year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean,” he said.
Mr Johnson said the “tough measures” in his new three-tiered system of localised restrictions would be the “best way to avoid this outcome”.
Some restrictions will be relaxed even further during a five-day period over Christmas.
But England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, urged people to avoid physical contact with grandparents or other elderly relatives.
He said: “Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their elderly relatives? No I would not.
“It’s not against the law – and that’s the whole point – you can do it within the rules that are there, but it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus.
“And, if you’ve got an elderly relative, that would not be the thing you would want to do in a period where we’re running up to a point where, actually, we might be able to protect older people.”
Under England’s new system of localised restrictions, 99% of the country’s population will enter the toughest two tiers.
But Mr Johnson told the public: “Your tier is not your destiny, every area has the means of escape.”
The prime minister signalled that mass testing would offer a route out of Tier 3, as he praised a recent pilot scheme in Liverpool, which will go into Tier 2 from next Wednesday.
It means the city is one of only two places in England to experience eased restrictions from 2 December – by moving from Tier 3 of the system that preceded the national lockdown.
“This is a success story which we want other parts of the country to replicate so we will work with local government, public health leaders and our fantastic Armed Forces to offer community testing to tier 3 areas as quickly as possible, opening the way for them to follow Liverpool’s example,” Mr Johnson said.
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