Government scientific advisors have urged Boris Johnson to strengthen lockdown measures to stop the new strain of coronavirus spreading across the UK.
Professor Robert West, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPIGB) warned that current restrictions were « still allowing a lot of activity which is spreading the virus ».
The professor of health psychology at University College London said he and other experts believed the restrictions needed to be tightened.
« Because we have the more infectious variant, which is somewhere around 50 per cent more infectious than last time round in March, that means that if we were to achieve the same result as we got in March we would have to have a stricter lockdown, and it’s not stricter. It’s actually less strict, » he told BBC News.
Meanwhile Professor Susan Michie, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the current lockdown was « too lax ».
« It is definitely too lax, because if you think about it and compare ourselves with March, what do we have now? » she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
« We have the winter season and the virus survives longer in the cold, plus people spend more time indoors and we know aerosol transmission, which happens indoors, is a very big source of transmission for this virus.
« And secondly we have this new variant which is 50-70 per cent more infectious. You put those two things together, alongside the NHS being in crisis, we should have a stricter rather than less strict lockdown than we had back in March. »
The UK’s death toll from coronavirus topped 80,000 since the start of the pandemic on Saturday following a further 1,035 deaths reported on the first day of the weekend.
The UK is one of the worst-hit countries in the world, with the US, Brazil, India and Mexico the only ones to record more coronavirus deaths.
The number of daily cases for people who tested positive for coronavirus also increased by 59,937.
Around 1 in 50 people in the UK are thought to currently have coronavirus, with the figure as high as 1 in 30 in London, according to the Office for National Statistics.
It comes as the government ramps up messaging around the virus, launching TV and radio advert campaign warning people to « act like you’ve got » the virus so as not to spread it.
Around 1 in 3 people infected with the virus do not have any symptoms and could pass it on without realising.
The adverts feature England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty solemnly warning of the dangers of the virus.
« It’s really much, much more about support. »
A Government spokesperson said: « Our priority from the outset has been to protect the NHS to save lives and we have taken advice from scientific and medical experts throughout.
« As new evidence has emerged, we have adapted our approach and taken swift action to try and stop the spread of the virus.
« We are now undertaking the biggest vaccination rollout in UK history, with over 1.5 million people already vaccinated, and continue to put in place measures to ensure NHS and social care services are available to anyone who needs them. »