Boris Johnson has warned the nation to prepare for six months of disruption, as the battle against Covid-19 reached “a perilous turning point”.
The prime minister said new curbs on freedoms could continue well beyond Christmas and New Year “unless we palpably make progress” in controlling the spread of the virus across the UK.
Without action, Mr Johnson warned that we would once again start to see hundreds of coronavirus deaths a day from November.
“We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real,” he told MPs.
“I’m sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we’ve reached a perilous turning point.”
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) September 22, 2020
In a television address this evening, the prime minister called on the nation to “summon the discipline, the resolve and the spirit of togetherness” to see us through a difficult winter.
He said: “Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour.
“If we follow these simple rules together, we will get through this winter together.
“There are unquestionably difficult months to come. And the fight against Covid is by no means over, but I have no doubt that there are great days ahead.”
His comments came as the number of UK cases rose by 4,926 on Tuesday, with deaths increasing by 37.
In the last fortnight, hospital admissions have doubled and Covid-19 is likely to spread faster in winter, Mr Johnson said, adding: “So this is the moment when we must act.”
If these restrictions fail to bring the R number below one – the point where the epidemic is no longer growing – “then we reserve the right to deploy greater fire power with significantly greater restrictions,” he said.
The latest R estimate for the whole of the UK is between 1.1 and 1.4.
Mr Johnson said: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.”
Measures announced in England cover hospitality opening hours, face masks, wedding receptions and working from home.
Nicola Sturgeon has gone further in Scotland, imposing a ban on household visits from Wednesday.
Mr Johnson said his government and the devolved administrations were taking broadly similar steps, adding: “I spoke with each of the First Ministers today and I thank them for their collaboration:
“The health of everyone in these islands depends on our common success.”
To those who have criticised the reimposition of restrictions, Mr Johnson said: “To those who say we should leave people to take their own risks, I say these risks are not our own.
“The tragic reality of having Covid is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party supported action, but raised concerns about the overall strategy.
He said: “One day people were encouraged to work in the office; in fact, more than encouraged, they were openly challenged by the prime minister for not doing so, today they’re told the opposite.
“This is a time of national crisis but we need clear leadership.”
Sir Keir, along with SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, also demanded an extension of the furlough scheme.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Blackford said: “The prime minister has changed his advice this morning on working from home, it is now time to change his mind on furlough as well.
“Prime ministers do not throw workers on the scrap-heap through no fault of their own.”
Mr Johnson replied: “Our objective is to keep businesses going and to keep the economy moving as much as we can.
“We will continue to send that support throughout the whole of the UK, to put our arms around the whole of the workforce of the UK and to protect jobs and livelihoods, but what we also want to see is those businesses continuing and jobs being created.”