Is England heading for a HALF-TERM lockdown?

Matt Hancock today admitted that a new national Covid crackdown is on the cards - with speculation that half-term could be extended in a bid to 'short-circuit' infections.

The Health Secretary pleaded with the public to 'come together to tackle this virus' as ministers consider imposing draconian restrictions for a fortnight in a bid to stop the spread.

Pubs, restaurants and hotels facing being shut to prevent 'significant' casualties - but no final decisions have been made as ministers wrangle over the impact on the economy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is believed to have raised concerns about the consequences of a full lockdown at a meeting yesterday.

One option under consideration is believed to be timing the curbs for the half-term holidays in October, and extending the break to a fortnight. That would minimise the harm to children, many of whom have already seen their education seriously disrupted. 

However, it is not clear whether the government can wait that long as cases surge, doubling every eight days. Schools and workplaces could instead stay open instead while the rest of society is subject to restrictions. 

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Hancock said a national lockdown was the 'last line of defence'. But he warned that it was a 'big moment for the country' and the situation was 'deadly serious'. Unless the 'Rule of Six' restrictions worked more would have to be done, he warned.

'The virus is clearly accelerating across the country,' Mr Hancock told Sky News. 'We have got to take the necessary action to keep people safe. We will do what it takes to keep people safe.'  

It comes as 10million people are told to follow new lockdown rules as Lancashire is placed under curfew alongside the North East.

The drastic steps are on the table as concerns grow about the shambolic testing system, with claims the Government's seven 'lighthouse labs' are in chaos due to shortages of staff and equipment. 

A leading scientist warned that 'testing is dying on its a**e', adding he was 'appalled by what I saw' at the labs.  

Concerns over new national rules come as:

The Northeast saw a busy night in bars after Matt Hancock confirmed the region would be hit by a 10pm curfew from tonight; Lancashire is set for tighter lockdown rules, with a curfew set to go in place, but exemptions for Blackpool  Preston, along with towns including Blackburn, Burnley, Lancaster and Morecambe, expected to be included  Spike in coronavirus levels will see more than 10million living under tighter local lockdown rules nationwide; Ministers have defended the shambolic testing system as thousands of people struggle to get checked for the disease, after Dido Harding claimed no-one expected the scale of demand as schools returned; Mr Hancock repeatedly ducked saying whether people should snitch on their neighbours for breaking the Rule of Six, after Boris Johnson and Priti Patel sent starkly different messages;  Boris Johnson begs Brits to 'save Christmas' by obeying 'Rule of Six', warning lockdown will only get stricter

A group of revellers enjoy a night out in Newcastle city tonight, the last evening before lockdown measures are brought in

A group of revellers enjoy a night out in Newcastle city tonight, the last evening before lockdown measures are brought in

How could the 'circuit breaker' work? 

The government is mulling what has been described as a 'circuit breaker' in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

But it would not be quite as draconian as the lockdown that was imposed at the previous height of the crisis in March.

Instead it would be similar to the lockdowns that have been introduced locally in areas with high infection levels. 

Curfews and restrictions on activities could be brought in nationwide for perhaps a fortnight, in the hope that short sharp action can break the chain of transmission.

Pubs and restaurants could either be ordered to close altogether, or have their opening hours severely restricted. 

But non-essential shops and workplaces would stay open, to avoid further disastrous damage to the economy. 

Schools would also be kept going, after ministers warned of the massive impact on the prospects of pupils. 

However, there is speculation the curbs could be introduced over the half-term at the end of October - if the government can wait that long with cases doubling every eight days.

Advertisement

The Government's chief science and medical officers have warned that another serious outbreak of coronavirus could lead to a significant number of deaths by the end of next month.

They could involve restrictions on activities in public space and either the closure of pubs and restaurants or tough curfews.  

Confirming the SAGE advisory board had considered the option, one scientist on the panel told the FT: 'As schools will be closed for one week at half-term, adding an extra week to that will have limited impact on education.'

Recent analysis from Imperial College London suggests Covid-19 rates are doubling every seven to eight days.

The unnamed scientist warned rising coronavirus levels could 'break the NHS', criticising the Government's test-and-trace system by warning it was 'creaking at the seams'.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs: 'I don't want a second national lockdown. I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.' 

But the Government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) has been considering a two-week shutdown in October.

Asked about the prospect of blanket curbs, Mr Hancock said: 'It isn't something that we ever take off the table, but it isn't something that we want to see either.

'The country once again needs to come together and recognise there is a serious challenge. That the virus is accelerating.

'Unfortunately, it isn't just cases increasing, it's also the number of people ending up in hospital increasing.' 

Mr Hancock also dismissed rumours that Mr Johnson was 'exhausted and defeated' by his workload, months after recovering from coronavirus.

He said the PM remained 'enormously vigorous' and that the seriousness of the decisions taken by the Government should not be overestimated.

'(He's) enormously vigorous and I think it's important to recognise that this is a really big moment,' he told Times Radio.

'The seriousness of the decisions we take can't be overestimated and we're making judgments about how to protect the health of the nation and how to save tens of thousands of lives whilst balancing that with the enormous social and economic and health impacts of the measures that we have to take.

'These are huge decisions and very weighty ones and so it's hugely understandable that the people making them should be taking them extremely seriously.'

Restrictions are being announced later today for almost all of Lancashire, coming into force tomorrow.

But the BBC this morning said the government was considering extending the curfews across the whole of England after Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance warned of another significant outbreak if precautions are not stepped up. 

Drinkers flocked to watering holes in the northeast last night after Matt Hancock confirmed the region would be hit by a 10pm curfew on pubs and bars starting tonight.

Dido Harding claims demand for testing is up to four times capacity 

Baroness Harding

Baroness Dido Harding (right) was grilled by MPs

Demand for Covid tests is up to four times the system's capacity, Baroness Harding admitted today.

The Tory peer revealed the staggering mismatch between the number of people wanting tests and the ability to carry them out as she claimed 27 per cent have no symptoms.

Extraordinarily. she said no-one had 'expected' the 'sizeable' increase in demand - although it was widely predicted, blaming SAGE for getting their estimates wrong.

Lady Harding has been hauled before MPs to explain the shambles that has left thousands struggling to get checked.

She told the Science Committee that she did not have precise numbers for how many people wanted tests. But she said phone calls and website visits suggested it was 'three to four times the number of tests we have available'.

Brazenly passing the buck for the chaos, Lady Harding said: 'We built our capacity plans based on SAGE modelling for what we should be preparing for in the Autumn.'

Lady Harding confirmed the capacity now for diagnostic tests is just under 243,000 per day - a figure that the government has failed to publish for more than a week. Thousands of tests are being sent abroad to be processed, she said.

She said the government was 'on track' to increase capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October - although that would cover all types of tests, not just for whether people currently have coronavirus.

And she conceded that will not be enough. 'I am certain we will need more as we go beyond the end of October,' she said. 

Advertisement

Around 9.2 million Britons have already been put under tougher local lockdown restrictions because of a spike in cases of coronavirus, but that figure could be about to rise beyond 10million. 

The Northeast saw a busy night in bars before its curfew came into force at midnight, meaning different households are prevented from mixing and making pubs and restaurants close at 10pm.

The city of Preston, along with towns including Blackburn, Burnley, Lancaster and Morecambe are expected to be included in the new curfew. Blackpool will be exempted, it was reported. 

Locals are also set to be told to only use buses and trains for essential trips such as to work, school and health appointments, according to LancsLive.

It is not yet known why Blackpool is expected to be excluded from the otherwise county-wide restrictions.  

It comes as pubs, bars and restaurants in all the affected areas in the North East —Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham — are now only allowed to offer table service. 

Sean Southern from The Gateshead Arms told MailOnline of the impact the new restrictions are likely to have on business.

He said: 'We used to be open until 12.30am, then because of Covid we reduced that to 11pm and now we're being told we have to shut at 10pm.

'Those hours are absolutely crucial for us, and probably our busiest time for those who want to have a few drinks before going further afield or going home.

'There's a few bars in the area which have closed down over the last few weeks and so we've sort of taken on those customers as well as our regulars recently.

'Things seemed to be getting better and then all of a sudden we're told last night that there's going to be big changes and we haven't really had time to prepare.

'People forget that closing at 10pm also has an impact on staff who might have wanted to pick up a few extra hours.'

Some 2,350 pubs and restaurants ware affected by the measures, according to real estate adviser Altus Group. 

Speaking about the number of Britons under lockdown rules hitting 10million, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: 'Labour warned months ago that unless the Government spent the summer fixing the testing regime then we would face a bleak winter.

'The Government ignored that advice, the testing regime is collapsing and so it is not surprising national restrictions are back on the table.'

The government is facing a growing backlash as the 'world class' testing system creaks under the pressure of rising cases.

Mounting requests for swabs as children return to school and workers head back to their desks, together with logistical chaos, has caused havoc. 

Testing tsar Baroness Dido Harding revealed yesterday that demand for Covid screening is up to four times the system's capacity. 

And extraordinarily, she claimed that no-one had predicted the spike in demand - blaming the modelling from the government's own SAGE experts.

Science committee chair Greg Clark told the Tory peer that her words were 'dispiriting', pointing out it was obvious that there would be a huge surge in demand. 

A reveller has her temperature checked by a bouncer before entering a venue in Newcastle city centre this evening

A reveller has her temperature checked by a bouncer before entering a venue in Newcastle city centre this evening

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured on Sky News today) pleaded with the public to 'come together to tackle this virus' as ministers consider imposing draconian restrictions for a fortnight in a 'circuit break' to stop the spread

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured on Sky News today) pleaded with the public to 'come together to tackle this virus' as ministers consider imposing draconian restrictions for a fortnight in a 'circuit break' to stop the spread

No staff at test centre on the same day the new measures were announced 

Dozens of drivers turned up at a test site to find there were no staff to swab them, on the day the Health Secretary announced tougher coronavirus measures for people in the north-east.

People who had booked a test on Thursday at Doxford Park, an out-of-town business park in , were told by the media they would not be tested, as there were no officials there to inform them.

Some had been turned away on the approach to the centre by security guards, who told them the computers had crashed and to try again later.

HGV mechanic Brad Cockburn, 28, made a 100-mile round trip from Bedale, North Yorkshire, only to find there were no staff, not even a tent or other infrastructure, at the site on the out-of-town business park.

He said: 'There's no organisation, it's piss-poor performance as usual.'

Rob Reid, a 58-year-old cash and carry manager from , booked for 3.45pm, only to find there were no staff.

He said: 'It annoys me. My concern is about my health and it comes across that the Government is not that concerned, when they are taking bookings on the NHS website and there's nobody here to do it.'

Advertisement

However, deeper problems have been highlighted in the government's processes today, with claims the 'Lighthouse' lab centres are in turmoil. 

Genomics scientist and inventor Phil Robinson told The Times they were poorly managed, running out of staff and failed to set up automatic processes before a second wave of infections. 

He told the paper: 'Every part of the process was poor. The other ludicrous issue they have is they have 20 different types of tube coming into the lab. When you are running a high throughput lab it's only sensible to have one. Why they haven't standardised that I have no idea.'

Lady Harding admitted yesterday that they were trying to automate far more of the processes. 

Dozens of drivers turned up at a test site yesterday to find there were no staff to swab them, on the same day the tougher measures were announced.

People who had booked a test on Thursday at Doxford Park, an out-of-town business park in , were told by the media they would not be tested, as there were no officials there to inform them.

Some had been turned away on the approach to the centre by security guards, who told them the computers had crashed and to try again later.  

Around two million people live in the seven authorities, of which only three — Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Gateshead — were formally named on Public Health England's most up-to-date watchlist. 

Council bosses argue they needed tougher measures across the region to prevent a full-blown lockdown and save lives. 

Labour MPs in the North East welcomed the new measures outlined by Mr Hancock, while urging the Government to work better with local councils.

In a joint letter to the minister, they said: 'We do (...) believe that this must be done in close collaboration with local authorities, who must have access to all appropriate information, data and support in order to make the best decisions for their areas.'

Mr Hancock's announcement came after measures in the likes of Greater Manchester and Birmingham were put in place in a bid to address rising rates of infection.

Meanwhile, at the Doxford Park site, drivers continued to turn up while others sat in the car park working out what to do next.

HGV mechanic Brad Cockburn, 28, made a 100-mile round trip from Bedale, North Yorkshire, only to find there were no staff, not even a tent or other infrastructure, at the site on the out-of-town business park.

He said: 'There's no organisation, it's piss-poor performance as usual.' 

What are the new restrictions for the North East?

Matt Hancock announced in the Commons that Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham will be subject to new restrictions from midnight tonight to curb the spread of the virus. The new restrictions are:

Residents must not socialise with other people outside of their own households or support bubble in private homes and gardens Pubs, bars and other hospitality businesses can only run table service Leisure and entertainment venues to shut between 10pm and 8am

People have also been advised to adhere to the following guidelines:

Not to socialise with other people outside of their own households in all public venues Only to use public transport for essential purposes, such as travelling to school or work Take holidays only within your own household or support bubble Avoid attending amateur and semi-professional sporting events as spectators

The Health Secretary said they were necessary to stop the spread of the virus and prevent another lockdown.

Advertisement

Rob Reid, a 58-year-old cash and carry manager from , booked for 3.45pm, only to find there were no staff.

He said: 'It annoys me. My concern is about my health and it comes across that the Government is not that concerned, when they are taking bookings on the NHS website and there's nobody here to do it.'

Police said they will enforce the lockdown measures as a last resort.

Superintendent Steve Long, of Durham Constabulary, said: 'The Government has announced that further local restrictions are necessary in addition to those already in place nationally.

'We would like to thank the vast majority of people who have taken personal responsibility, done the right thing and stuck to the guidance over the last few months.

'Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the new regulations and encourage people to act responsibly: only then will we move to enforcement as a last resort.' 

Around 9.2million people across the UK are now in areas of intervention, including parts of Greater Manchester, Leicester and Scotland. 

But neither Middlesbrough and Hartlepool in the North East, two other authorities officially named as a hotspot by Public Health England, were hit by the tough new measures. 

The announcement comes amid fears thousands of students returning to university in the area could cause cases to rise even further. 

Around 40,000 students are expected to flock back to Newcastle University in the coming days, as well as nearly 20,000 to Durham University. 

Rising numbers of infections in London and Leeds have prompted warnings the cities may soon head in the same direction as the North East with additional restrictions. 

And in North Yorkshire 'full emergency mode' has been declared after cases surged by 167 per cent in the first week of September. 

Coronavirus cases have been increasing rapidly across NE England. Newcastle has recorded a sharp rise in its weekly infection rate, up from 51.2 cases for every 100,000 people to 64.1 in the seven days to September 13

Coronavirus cases have been increasing rapidly across NE England. Newcastle has recorded a sharp rise in its weekly infection rate, up from 51.2 cases for every 100,000 people to 64.1 in the seven days to September 13

Local authority watchlist - Is your home town on the list?

KEY: Infection rate per 100,000. Are cases rising or falling? Have special measures been taken? 

Bolton: 121.9 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Bradford: 72.2 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Oldham: 66.6 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Salford: 62.3 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Blackburn with Darwen: 61.8 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Preston: 59.9 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Pendle: 58 per 100,000. Falling. Intervention.

Rochdale: 57.7 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Tameside: 56.8 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Manchester: 56.8 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Birmingham: 50.8 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Bury: 46.8 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Leicester: 43.1 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Kirklees: 36.9 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Solihull: 34.9 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Calderdale: 34.3 per 100,000. Rising. Intervention.

Trafford: 31.3 per 100,000. Falling. Intervention.

Sandwell: 22.6 per 100,000. Falling. Intervention.

Rossendale: 80.4 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Burnley: 57.6 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

South Tyneside: 50.6 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Leeds: 47.3 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Hyndburn: 42.1 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Gateshead: 40.5 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

: 32.4 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne: 28 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Stockport: 20.2 per 100,000. Rising. Enhanced support.

Hertsmere: 53.7 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Wirral: 43.6 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Middlesbrough: 42 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Hartlepool: 38.6 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Corby: 35.3 per 100,000. Falling. Concern.

Liverpool: 31.1 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Sefton: 31.1 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Knowsley: 30.1 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Sheffield: 28.5 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Peterborough: 27.9 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Northampton: 25.8 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Stoke-on-Trent: 25 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

St. Helens: 23.3 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Great Yarmouth: 23.1 per 100,000. Falling. Concern.

Norwich: 20.5 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

Swindon: 16.7 per 100,000. Falling. Concern.

Breckland: 16.5 per 100,000. Falling. Concern.

South Norfolk: 10.9 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk: 4 per 100,000. Level. Concern.

Broadland: 3.1 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

North Norfolk: 2.9 per 100,000. Rising. Concern.

ENGLAND: 19.7 per 100,000. Rising. 

Source: Public Health England

Advertisement

The Prime Minister yesterday pleaded for Brits to 'save Christmas' by obeying his 'Rule of Six', warning that lockdown will only get stricter if the UK does not 'flatten the hump of the camel'. 

Ministers batted away claims that chief medical officer Chris Whitty is pushing for a two-week national lockdown. 

But it has now emerged that the prospect is real - albeit the restrictions would not be as draconian as those imposed in March.

Leading experts have insisted the current spike in Covid-19 cases is nowhere near the scale of what was seen during the darkest days of the crisis in March and April, with one telling MailOnline: 'We are not near the stage of the peak.'  

Meanwhile, the Government is expected to announce tighter restrictions on care home visits in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases.

Care homes in areas subject to local lockdowns may be advised to temporarily restrict visits in all but end-of-life situations, it is understood.

For parts of the country where there is no local lockdown, but where community transmission is a cause for concern, an option officials are considering is advising that visits are restricted to one designated visitor per resident.

The Government will set out further details of its social care action plan to help fight the spread of coronavirus over winter.

The Financial Times reported that leading scientists advising the UK Government have proposed a two-week national lockdown in October to tackle the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

The experts, from the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-m), have suggested a lockdown to coincide with the October school half-term, it added.

Newcastle City Council has sent proposals to the Department of Health for pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm and for people to be banned from socialising outside their bubble.

London could be 'weeks away' from further restrictions as its infection rate has started to double every two weeks. Redbridge, in north-east London, has the highest rate of coronavirus infections at 38 per 100,000. It is followed by Hounslow, in the south-west, with 34.6 per 100,000, and Barking and Dagenham, also in the east, at 31.5 per 100,000. 

Cllr Peter John, chairman of London councils, said he is 'massively worried' authorities will be forced to enact further restrictions as cases are 'only going in one direction and only going to speed up'. Kevin Fenton, PHE's director for London, has suggested that curfews could also be deployed in the capital.

London boroughs have the power to order local lockdowns but, as people tend to move between local authority areas to work or study, it is not clear how this restriction would work. 

A No10 spokesman said: 'Specifically in London, no restrictions are currently planned, the important thing is we ask people to remain vigilant and comply with the rule of six.

'We will always keep the transmission rate under review and any measures that we deem required'.

Leeds has been told it has entered a 'critical phase' in transmission. 

Council chief executive Tom Riordan yesterday said they are in a 'live situation' where cases are rising. Dozens of regions in the UK, including Greater Manchester and Leicester, have already been hit with local lockdowns. 

North Yorkshire has been put into 'full emergency mode', meaning testing facilities have been redirected to areas of greatest need, care homes receiving extra support and the brakes put onto the reopening of social care day services.

The North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum - which includes emergency services, local authorities and the NHS - has labelled Selby, Harrogate and parts of Scarborough and Craven as places of concern owing to rising case numbers.

Richard Flinton, the chair of North Yorkshire's resilience forum has warned they are seeing a 'worrying rise' in cases as he called on the whole county to 'act now' to stop the spread of the virus. 

Mr Flinton said: 'We thank everybody again for their many sacrifices. 

'However, as we have seen nationally and around the world, cases are rising again and the threat of the virus is a real and present danger.'

 'We know how quickly infection rates can change and we are calling on the whole county to act now with us in response.

'Please show extra restraint and caution and to take additional actions above and beyond those required nationally to help us try to avoid another lockdown here.'

Government sources have told The Telegraph that Boris Johnson is desperate to tackle rising cases through placing a curfew on the hospitality sector. Downing Street officials insisted all options were still be on table, despite warnings that ordering pubs to close early — like has been done in Bolton — would be 'devastating'. 

The action comes amid warnings that schools could be forced to close by default in the coming weeks because of a massive shortage of tests across the UK. 

'Lockdown is the only thing that we know works, to be frank,' one government science adviser told ITV.

The dire prospect has been raised amid fears that the disease is on the verge of spiralling out of control again.

Although cases have spiked to nearly 4,000 a day, it had been mainly among younger people, who are less likely to be badly affected. 

But now Covid-19 cases are soaring among middle-aged people in England and have risen by upwards of 90 per cent in a fortnight as the outbreak continues to grow.

Public Health England (PHE) data reveals 23.4 cases are now diagnosed for every 100,000 people aged between 40 and 49 — up from 12.4 at the end of August. And coronavirus infection rates have nearly doubled in just a week for people in their fifties, jumping from 10.9 to 20. 

The 'Rule of Six' imposed by Boris Johnson on Monday makes it illegal to have larger gatherings, although in Scotland and Wales children under 12 do not need to be counted in the numbers. 

Ministers have suggested they are following the example of Belgium, where a surge appears to have been tackled using tight limits on gatherings and curfews. 

A senior member of the government told ITV's Robert Peston that there was 'no possibility of us waiting for the death rate to rise before we act'.

London's infection rate 'doubles every fortnight'

Passengers commute on the busy London underground

Passengers commute on the busy London underground

London's infection rate is doubling every two weeks, the chair of the capital's councils has warned.

Sounding a grim note Cllr Peter John told Times Radio he was 'massively worried' about further restrictions being hiked on the city in the coming weeks.

'We are seeing in London at the moment infection rates doubling every fortnight,' he said. 'It is only going in one direction and only going to speed up.'

He also warned that testing rates for London had been cut by a fifth, leaving authorities less able to stop emerging infection spikes.

It comes amid mounting concerns the return of more than half a million students could cause an additional spike in infections.

A No10 spokesman told the Sun: 'Specifically in London, no restrictions are currently planned, the important thing is we ask people to remain vigilant and comply with the rule of six.

'We will always keep the transmission rate under review and any measures that we deem required'.

Government data shows the number of cases has been rising in the capital since late July, but began to surge upwards at the end of August. 

The largest number of cases has been recorded in those aged 25 to 29, followed by 30 to 34-year-olds.

Advertisement

They added that the government will reassess whether the 'Rule of Six' has been enough to control the situation in fortnight - but there is a widespread view that schools should not be shut again.

A leading scientific advisor reportedly said: 'I think that if we want to keep schools open, we probably have to give serious consideration to a wide range of other measures to stop a major second wave.

'And we have to think about doing that right now - which we are starting to do.'

Mr Johnson said he understood a negative test had been returned for Sir Keir's child, adding: 'I don't know why he is not here.'

The Labour leader was advised to self-isolate on Monday while awaiting the result of a test for a member of his household who showed possible symptoms of Covid-19.

Less than half an hour before PMQs was due to begin, Sir Keir said he was 'very pleased and relieved that the test result for one of my children came back negative this morning'.

A decision had been made on Tuesday for his deputy, Ms Rayner, to take his place at the question session.

The possibility of a harsher crackdown comes despite a

read more from dailymail.....

PREV Man with metal detector finds 222-year-old coin near church
NEXT Troubled girl, 16, takes her own life on school grounds