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.”
The prime minister spoke at the Downing Street news conference having earlier on Thursday ended his period of self-isolation.
Mr Johnson had been forced to quarantine following a meeting with a Conservative MP who later tested positive for COVID-19.
England’s national lockdown will end next week when 99% of the population will enter the toughest two tiers of the new system of localised restrictions.
Mr Johnson is facing a backlash from Tory MPs following Thursday’s announcement of which local areas will go into which tiers.
Some Conservatives have voiced their anger that their constituencies will now go into a higher tier than the one from which they entered England’s month-long national lockdown.
A small number of Tory MPs have already stated their intention to vote against the new three-tiered system of restrictions in the House of Commons next week.
Meanwhile, others have demanded the government publish an analysis of the impact of the new restrictions before the Commons vote.