Scientists from the Independent Sage group have urged that all regions of England be placed in tier 4, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues must close. Devolved nations were advised to bring forward their own national lockdowns. Tier 4 should include enhanced travel restrictions, the group said, while arguing that an emergency plan be introduced to enable safe education in January and February.

This idea is supported by teaching unions, who have demanded that the government keeps schools closed as evidence has grown that the new virus variant is proving to be particularly infectious among children.

This point was backed by Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia. “If this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big worry,” he said.