COVID-19: National lockdown must be imposed within 24 hours, says Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

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The government must impose a national lockdown within 24 hours, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Sir Keir said the virus is "clearly out of control" and national restrictions have to be "the first step".

He said: "It's no good the prime minister hinting that further restrictions are coming into place in a week or two or three. That delay has been the source of so many problems.

"So I say bring in those restrictions now, national restrictions within the next 24 hours. That has to be the first step to controlling the virus."

He added: "We can't allow the prime minister to use up the next two or three weeks and then bring in a national lockdown which is inevitable. Do it now."

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Sir Keir's comments come as another 54,990 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK - the sixth day in a row that new daily cases have exceeded 50,000.

A further 454 people have died with coronavirus, government figures show.

It takes the total number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the UK to 75,024.

Three quarters of the population in England are now living under the highest Tier 4 restrictions after 20 million more people were put in on New Year's Eve.

Tier 4 measures include a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors, and the closure of non-essential shops, as well as hairdressers and gyms. People are encouraged to work from home if possible.

Everyone else in England is in Tier 3, apart from the Isles of Scilly which is in Tier 1.

Earlier on Sunday, Boris Johnson warned of possible tougher restrictions ahead for the country, saying: "It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that may be tougher. I'm fully reconciled to that. I think the whole country is fully reconciled to that."

All of Wales is at the highest alert level 4, while most of Scotland is under the toughest level 4 restrictions.

In Northern Ireland, a new six-week lockdown began on 26 December.

Newspaper reports say that tougher measures could be taken by the middle of this month.

The Daily Telegraph reported that England could be back in lockdown by the middle of January with fears the country could remain that way until at least Easter.

Plans are being drawn-up for the return of shielding, whereby people more likely to be badly-affected by the virus are told to stay at home with no exceptions, the newspaper said.

The Daily Mail reported that the government committee overseeing restrictions is expected to meet today, with a government source quoted as saying that more areas could be moved into Tier 4, currently the toughest set of restrictions.

In response to Sir Keir's comments, a Number 10 source said: "The prime minister has been consistently clear that we are driven by the need to protect the NHS and save lives - unlike Labour who have spent the last ten months playing party politics.

"We have moved more areas into Tier 4 to bear down on the new variant and escalated other areas into Tier 3. This targeted approach is the right one, and is kept under review based on the latest data."