Boris Johnson says the tougher local coronavirus lockdowns are a means of avoiding a “new year national lockdown”.

The prime minister sought to justify the imposition of stringent tier 2 and 3 restrictions on nearly 99% of the country’s population amid a backlash from Tory MPs.

He told a No.10 press briefing: “We must first navigate a hard winter when the burden on our NHS is heaviest and the cold weather favours the virus.

“The data already suggests national measures have slowed and in some places reversed the growth of new cases.

“As more data comes in we hope and expect those trends continue.

“Together we have have prevented our NHS from being overwhelmed but those dangers have not gone away.

“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 into a new year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean.”

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty justified the decision to place almost the entire country in tiers 2 and 3.

“Tier 1, which is very similar to the previous tier 1, slowed things down but did not stop the rise (in cases) anywhere,” he said.

“So the reason why tier 1 at this time of year, with the current measures we currently have before we have any vaccines, is relatively limited is almost certainly anywhere going into tier 1 will rise and the only places that are there are places with very low rates at the moment.”

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said tougher restrictions were needed, for example forcing pubs to serve substantial meals to stay open in tier 2, and shutting all hospitality in tier 3, because the old system did not work.

“The message is that the tiers worked in terms of slowing but didn’t work in terms of flattening and reversing it,” he said.

“The national lockdown looks as if it has flattened it and is sending it downwards and it is important we do bring it down because numbers remain high.”

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