The UK’s coronavirus alert level is being upgraded from 3 to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”, its chief medical officers have said.
It comes after the government’s scientific adviser warned there could be 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October without further action.
The prime minister will make a statement in the Commons on Tuesday.
On Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases were reported in the UK, up from 3,899.
A further 11 people have also died within 28 days of getting a positive test, although these figures tend to be lower over the weekend and on Mondays due to reporting delays.
In a statement confirming their recommendation, 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.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the move reflected “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,” he said.
The alert level, which is recommended by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, was reduced from level 4 to 3 on 19 June – which indicated the virus was “in general circulation” but there could be a “gradual relaxation of restrictions”.
The proposed upgrading comes as the PM prepares to chair a Cobra emergency meeting on Tuesday morning.
Speaking at Downing Street earlier, alongside chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.
“If, and that’s quite a big if, but if that continues unabated, and this grows, doubling every seven days… if that continued you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day.
“Fifty-thousand cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November say, to 200-plus deaths per day.
“The challenge, therefore, is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.
“That requires speed, it requires action and it requires enough in order to be able to bring that down.” BBC