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Experts have called for an immediate national lockdown to get on top of the "out of control" new coronavirus variant.
Independent SAGE says any delay will cause "tens of thousands of avoidable deaths" as it warned Britain has entered a "new, more serious pandemic", adding: "The government needs to act now to prevent this catastrophe."
A stark statement by the organisation called for a "radical rethink" in the strategy being used to tackle the virus as the UK recorded 53,135 new cases – a record daily increase.
Sir David King, chair of Independent SAGE and former Chief Scientific Adviser to the government, said: "The UK is now at the most precarious stage of the pandemic and urgent action is needed.
"The reasons for the extreme urgency and the five action points that must now be carried out by our decision makers are set out in our press briefing.
"There is every reason to treat this is as the critical time for action now. Any delay will probably cause tens of thousands more deaths."
If Independent SAGE's advice is heeded, the country would be placed into its third national lockdown.
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The warning criticises the government's failure to implement a circuit breaker lockdown in September, recommended by both Independent SAGE and SAGE.
The experts think the new variant will be dominant by mid-January, and even a blanket Tier 4 lockdown won't be able to hold it up.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to place more areas of England into Tier 4 tomorrow.
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Along with calls for a new national lockdown, Independent SAGE wants all schools to be closed for a month because they are "unsafe currently", an explicit strategy for the vaccine rollout and a clear strategy for what will happen at the end of the lockdown.
Independent SAGE warned if this advice is not followed, the virus will "run rampant" through the UK.
The statement reads: "Admissions each day are still rising. With cases still rising steeply, pressures on the NHS in England will get significantly worse over the next few weeks.
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"The new variant has come to rapidly dominate cases in London, the South East and East of England, but it is present in all regions.
"The SAGE modelling subgroup believe that by mid-January the new variant will be the dominant strain across the whole of England.
"The greater transmissibility has tipped us into a new, even more serious, pandemic.
"While the new variant is not thought to cause more severe disease than the standard strain of Covid-19, its greater infectiousness will inevitably lead to many more hospitalisations and deaths as more people catch it."
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The contagious Covid-19 variant, which was first discovered in September in south-east England, is thought to be up to 70% more infectious than the original strain.
It caused around 20 million people in England to be placed into a Tier 4 lockdown days before Christmas, but now scientific experts say those level of restrictions will not be enough to get on top of this wave of Covid-19.
The statement ended: "The lesson should by now have been learned by the decision makers. Prompt action will be better for the health of the country and our economy.
"Delay can only lead to further rapid growth of this pernicious disease, paralysing our ability to manage it."
Independent SAGE is holding a press conference at 10am tomorrow (Wednesday).
- Boris Johnson
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