MINISTERS have played down claims that top doc Professor Chris Whitty is pushing for a fresh two-week national lockdown amid fears coronavirus cases could be as high as 38,000-a-day.
Anthony Costello, who sits on the independent SAGE panel, said last night that England's chief medical officer had suggested the new shutdown to curb the spread – but later backtracked.
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The expert claimed the government fears daily Covid-19 cases could be ten times as high as the daily reported figures amid a national testing fiasco.
He wrote on Twitter: "I'm hearing from a well-connected person that government now thinks, in absence of testing, there are 38,000 infections per day.
"Chris Whitty is advising PM for a two week national lockdown."
However, hours later he then appeared to go back on his claims, tweeting: "I've been told by another insider I respect that Chris Whitty does not support a 2 week lockdown, so I'm pleased to correct the record."
But the government today talked down the claims – insisting Boris Johnson wants to steer clear of another UK lockdown.
Edward Argar, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, told Sky News: "It's not something that I've heard about, I know there's speculation in the press today.
"But it's not something I've seen within the department.
"The prime minister has been very clear about this, he doesn't want to see another national lockdown.
"He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work and get that infection rate down."
He later told the BBC: "I don't think we are at a place where we would wish to see or need to see national rules."
A new lockdown would see businesses and possibly schools forced to close again as the UK is already crippled by a recession and high unemployment.
But the PM yesterday hinted the extreme measures could be imposed on Brits again if they don't obey the new rule of six.
He has so far refused to rule out another lockdown – but insists it would be the "nuclear" option.
In an interview with The Sun, he warned that only tough love will flatten a second camel-like hump on Britain’s coronavirus graph and save Christmas.
Mr Johnson said: "We do think the disease is gaining ground.
"We have a very clear means to suppress it. That is social distancing – the rule of six – and I urge people to obey it."
Pockets of the UK have been slapped with local lockdown restrictions to slow the surge in cases – amid fears that a national lockdown could be imposed almost by default.
The North East will be hit with strict rules from midnight tonight – including a reported 10pm pub curfew and households banned from mixing.
The ramped-up restrictions will apply to Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland.
Around two million locals will be affected by the rules, which have been imposed after cases rose sharply.
Already thousands in Caephilly in Wales are under some lockdown rules, and Rhondda Cyon Taf will face extra restrictions from tonight at 6pm, too.
Meanwhile, parts of the North West and Birmingham are also under extra rules – where they can't meet up with other households.
Bolton pubs have been ordered to shut completely except for takeaways, and must be closed by 10pm.
It comes as almost 4,000 people tested positive for the disease in the UK yesterday – the biggest 24 hour jump in more than 18 weeks.
And another 20 people lost their lives to the virus in Britain.
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