Boris Johnson is to address the nation at a 5pm press conference on the first day of the new national lockdown.
His televised announcement is expected to focus on the importance of protecting the health service through the second wave of the coronavirus crisis, amid fears hospitals could run out of beds.
He will appear alongside NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens, who yesterday said the country has ’22 hospitals worth’ of coronavirus patients after ‘a very substantial’ increase in admissions.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme on Wednesday, he said the number of severely ill people the NHS is treating has rocketed from 2,000 at the beginning of October to just under 11,000.
‘The facts are clear, we are once again facing a serious situation,’ he said.
‘This is not a situation that anybody wanted to find themselves in, the worst pandemic in a century, but the fact is that the NHS is here.
‘The public can help us help you so our fantastic staff – our nurses, our doctors, our paramedics – can get on with looking after you and your family there when you need it.’
NHS England was moved to its highest level of emergency alert at midnight on Thursday, when the lockdown restrictions came into force.
The new restrictions are set to last until December 2, when England will return to the tiered system.
From today, people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, such as food, exercise or to do a food shop.
Non-essential businesses must close and households are banned from mixing.
The PM has insisted that the lockdown will end December 2 ‘without a shred of doubt’, despite some ministers hinting it will have to be extended.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it would be ‘madness’ to come out of lockdown in a month if infection rates are still high and hospitals are still at risk of being overwhelmed.
Earlier, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the furlough scheme will be extended until March in a sign many areas may be living under tight restrictions for five months.
He told MPs that workers whose employers have been forced to close will continue to receive 80% of their salaries up to £2,500 per month until March.
The scheme will remain in place beyond December 2 and be available to employees across the entire UK.
That guarantees furlough funding for tier three regions in England, as well as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should the devolved administrations bring in their own lockdown measures.
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