Britain’s coronavirus alert level has been ramped up to level four – last seen during the spring lockdown.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre made the decision to move up from level three amid a surge in infections and with Boris Johnson expected to announce new nationwide restrictions on Tuesday.
It means the UK moves up from level three, which states that a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation, to level four, when transmission of the virus is high or rising at an ever increasing rate.
Such a high alert level was last seen during the height of lockdown in spring. The UK has been at level three since mid-June.
In a joint statement, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “After a period of lower Covid cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.
“If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.
“We know this will be a concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this.”