England could be placed under stringent national lockdown restrictions next week under plans reportedly being considered by the Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson will announce the new measures at a press conference on Monday, The Times said, which could see everything closed except essential shops and educational settings.
The restrictions could be introduced on Wednesday and remain in place until December 1, according to the paper.
However, no final decisions are believed to have been made, and tougher regional measures – such as the introduction of Tier 4 – are also being considered.
Mr Johnson has so far resisted pressure to reintroduce nationwide restrictions, despite calls for a “circuit-breaker” to curb the rise in coronavirus cases.
But new data published on Friday suggested around 570,000 people per week are becoming infected with Covid-19 across England, prompting fresh calls from scientists for tougher restrictions.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey found cases “continued to rise steeply” in the week ending October 23, with an estimated 568,100 people in households becoming infected.
Scientific advisers at the top of Government believe it is now too late for a two-week national circuit-breaker to have enough of an effect and a longer national lockdown is needed to drive the reproduction number, or R value, of the virus below one.
All parts of England are on course to eventually end up in Tier 3 restrictions, they believe, while deaths could potentially hit 500 per day within weeks.
Government scientists are also confident that more than 50,000 new cases of coronavirus are now occurring every day in England.
It comes as official documents released by the Government show that a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting on October 8 said the number of infections and hospital admissions is “exceeding the reasonable worst case scenario (RWCS) planning levels at this time”.
The document, which came just days before three tier restrictions were announced, said the number of deaths was also “highly likely to exceed reasonable worst case planning levels” within the next two weeks.
Sage documents leaked to The Spectator this week showed an RWCS of 85,000 Covid-19 deaths until the end of March, with more than 500 deaths a day for 90 days at the peak.
The Sage document of October 8 said a continued rise in hospital admissions means that “if there are no decisive interventions, continued growth would have the potential to overwhelm the NHS, including the continued delivery of non-Covid treatments”.
A separate Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) consensus statement dated October 14 said “combined estimates from six SPI-M-O models suggest there are between 43,000 and 74,000 new infections per day in England”.
In September, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that without action, the UK could see 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October and more than 200 daily deaths.
Over the last week, deaths have averaged 230 a day while the latest ONS data suggests more than 50,000 cases a day.
On Friday, the Government said a further 274 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, while a further 24,405 lab-confirmed cases were recorded in the UK.
The new ONS figures, based on 609,777 swab tests taken whether people have symptoms or not, show the highest rates are in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.
Rates also remain high in the North East, but the ONS said these have now levelled off and “there is now a larger gap with the other two northern regions”.
Analysis by the PA news agency of the data shows that the estimated percentage of people in north-east England testing positive went from 0.57% for the period September 12 to 25 to 1.41% for the period of September 26 to October 9.
But the rate of increase appears to be levelling off, with the latest figure being 1.43% for the period October 10 to 23.
In contrast, the North West has jumped from 1.57% for September 26 to October 9 to 2.47% for the period October 10 to 23.
The lowest rates are in the South East, South West and eastern England, while there has been growth in all age groups over the past two weeks.
Sage said on Friday the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission for the whole of the UK is between 1.1 and 1.3 – representing the situation over the last few weeks.
Last week, the group said the R number was slightly higher at between 1.2 and 1.4.