Britain’s coronavirus alert level has been ramped up to level four – last seen during the height of the pandemic.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre’s recommendation was agreed by the chief medical officers of the UK nations. It comes amid a surge in infections and with Boris Johnson expected to announce new nationwide restrictions on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance warned there could be 50,000 daily cases of Covid-19 by mid-October and 200 deaths a day by mid-November if the current rate of infection is not halted.
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. 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.”
Responding, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she will be introducing measures to bring the virus “back under control” in Scotland on Tuesday.
4 UK CMOs - inc @DrGregorSmith - agree raising of #Covid_19 alert level to 4. I’ll participate in COBR meeting tomorrow am, after which @scotgov Cabinet will agree measures to bring virus back under control in Scotland. I’ll then offer statement to @ScotParl tomorrow pm.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) September 21, 2020
Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster meanwhile announced extra restrictions on social gatherings.
There will be no mixing of two households indoors, except for single-person bubbles and certain other exemptions, from 6pm on Tuesday.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The raising of the alert level announced by the UK CMOs reflects the significant shift in the current threat posed by coronavirus.
“This country now faces a tipping point in its response and it is vital everybody plays their part now to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives.
“The first line of defence has always been all of us playing our part, remembering hands, face and space, the rule of six and self-isolation of those who risk passing on the virus.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.