BORIS Johnson will today hold a meeting to decide if the UK should be slammed back into lockdown.
The PM is expected to speak with ministers today before potentially cutting off London and the South East from the rest of the UK in a desperate attempt to stop the spread of a new Covid strain.
Millions of festive families could be told this afternoon their Christmas has been clobbered in the announcement.
The PM last night sat down in an emergency meeting and given “alarming” new evidence – as medics issued a chilling warning that the new virus strain is 50 per cent more contagious than previous Covid-19 cases.
The draconian measures make the chances of a third national lockdown increasingly likely.
Last night a government source told HOAR: “What we do not know yet is whether the new strain is more or less likely to cause you harm, but what we have learnt is that it will pass to person to person much more easily and that is what we are really worried about.”
Mr Johnson could announce the new travel advice today.
A Whitehall source said: “This is a fluid situation but it’s not looking good and we have to act fast.”
A health source said: “The last 48 hours have changed everything.”
HOAR understands evidence shows a dramatic hike in positive cases in London in the past week.
The new strain is blamed for a sudden surge in hospitalisations.
And there are fears people are catching the virus despite wearing PPE and socially distancing.
Earlier yesterday Mr Johnson had urged people to start isolating immediately if they plan on celebrating with grandparents.
The PM said meetings with others should be limited — as he warned a new festive spike could spark future lockdowns.
He tweeted: “If you are forming a Christmas Bubble, it’s vital that from today, you minimise contact with people from outside your household.
Everyone must take personal responsibility to avoid passing the virus on to loved ones.”
As a further 4.5million people — 38million in all — wake in Tier 3 restrictions today the PM said he couldn’t rule out tougher measures.
Wales and Northern Ireland have already announced a post-festive shutdown. But Boris said he was “hoping very much that we’ll be able to avoid anything like that”.
Speaking on a tour of a telecoms training hub in Bolton, he added: “The reality is that infection rates have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
He urged the public to avoid spreading the deadly bug over Christmas and reiterated the three household bubble was a limit, not a target people should aim for.
Praising Brits, the PM said: “I think people really get this. All the evidence I’m seeing, people understand this is the time to look after our elderly relatives and avoid spreading the disease.
“Keep it short, keep it small, have yourselves a very little Christmas as I said the other night — that is, I’m afraid, the way through this year.
“Next year I’ve no doubt that as we roll out the vaccine it will be very different indeed.”
Stats released yesterday showed those living with Covid in England have risen by almost a fifth in a week.
DRACONIAN TIER 4
The ONS said 567,300 people had the bug between December 6 and 12 — equal to one person in 95. The latest reproduction R number is now between 1.1 and 1.2.
But the public do appear to be listening to the PM — as official figures show only half of Brits are planning to form a festive bubble.
That includes 26 per cent saying they plan to visit family and friends but not stay overnight compared with 52 per cent last year.
Only four per cent plan to meet in restaurants, cafes or bars compared with 44 per cent last year.
The PM is still coming under fire from Tories and hospitality chiefs, who want measures lifted as soon as possible, plus gloomy scientists who predict more lockdowns.
Meanwhile, fears are growing that a more draconian Tier 4 may be needed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is understood to be considering additional curbs if mass testing fails to make an impact.
A Whitehall official said: “There is a case for going further than Tier 3 and it is getting stronger — closure of non-essential retail, stay-at-home orders.
“That would have to be actively considered in conversation with a local authority.”
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said people should consider postponing Christmas socialising until Easter.
And Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to March’s first lockdown, suggested a more severe third national lockdown may be needed.
Prof John Edmunds, of the Sage science advisory body, warned: “Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the tier system is holding back the epidemic wave. We are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them.”
Documents newly released by Sage say avoiding social contacts for more than five days before meeting older or vulnerable people at Christmas will reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
A longer period of a week or more would reduce the risk even further. A document dated November 26 says taking a rapid Covid test before a multi-day gathering inside a home could also reduce risk.